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Originally published Monday, January 10, 2011 at 4:35 PM

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Washington state should not create ferry taxing district

The Seattle Times Editorial Board argues against Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to set up a special ferry-tax district around Puget Sound.

GOV. Chris Gregoire's proposal to set up a new taxing district to subsidize the Washington State Ferries should be abandoned.

The first place for the ferry system to look for revenue is from users. Already the system gets 70 percent of its operating money — for wages, benefits and fuel — directly from users, in fares. This compares with 51 percent for B.C. Ferries, a similar operation, and 20 to 22 percent for King County Metro's buses.

Seventy percent is good.

Washington's ferries also receive a share of statewide gas-tax money. The state constitution reserves gas taxes for highway purposes and names the ferries as such a purpose.

To these two sources the governor proposes to add a third: a taxing district, to include all or part of nine counties near Washington State Ferries. This district would levy some sort of tax to collect an annual amount, starting at about $75 million, to provide the rest of the money the ferry system wants.

This proposal assumes that Washington residents who live nearer an expensive part of the highway system should pay more of the cost, not counting user fees, than people who live farther away.

If that is reasonable, should the people nearer the bridges over the Columbia River at Wenatchee and Pasco pay for them with a special property tax? Should North Bend, Cle Elum and Ellensburg be put in a special gas-tax district to support maintenance of Snoqualmie Pass? Should Spokane have a penny higher on the sales tax to support the upgrading of U.S. 395?

They would say no, and we would agree with them. Regarding the ferries, that part not covered by fares, or by federal grants, should be covered by state taxpayers generally.

How to do it in the 2011-2013 biennium is a problem. The state will not be able to do all it wants, and the ferry system will be short. That's life — and it's the same problem the other state agencies have.

The ferry system should fight it out for funding, the same as other state programs.

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