Let me start this newsletter update with some breaking news: The sun is out!
Many of you may not recognize that giant yellow orb in the sky, but my 5-year-old tells me that it is, in fact, the sun. Though it hasn't visited us much this summer, it's sure wonderful when it's here. There are so many great things to take advantage of in our neck of the woods when the sun is out - state parks, farmers' markets, movies and concerts in the park, and other terrific festivities.
In fact, the Kilmers joined several hundred others out on the waterfront in Gig Harbor for the concert on the pier last night. A good time was had by all, including my 2-year-old who definitely got her groove on to the B-52s . . . there's nothing quite like hearing your toddler yell, "Love shack, baby."
Now . . . on to the news . . . .
An update on ferry fares
Nobody knows better than folks in our neck of the woods how important our ferries are. They help us get to work, to school, or to a Mariners game (well, OK, maybe the Ms aren't worth it this year). As your senator, I've worked to maintain service in our region and to try to hold fares down as much as possible. Year after year, we've seen proposals for potential service cuts or substantial fare increases, and I've worked continually to protect the families and commuters of the West Sound from unreasonable hikes.
The Transportation Commission is currently considering new fare rates, so I'd like to take this opportunity to inform you of the latest proposal and your opportunity to weigh in before any new fares are approved.
To meet the requirements of the 2011-13 transportation budget, the state Transportation Commission has developed a proposal for new ferry fares. The commission has held meetings in key ferry regions, including ours, to hear feedback and will hold one final hearing on Aug. 24 in Seattle.
The commission's proposal affects five main areas:
* A general fare increase of 2.5 percent would take effect Oct. 1, 2011, and an additional 3 percent general fare increase would take effect May 1, 2012.
* A new size category for cars less than 14 feet long that would cost 70 percent of the standard fare, to encourage the use of small cars and expand ferry capacity. This would be phased in over three years, with the adjusted fare beginning at 90 percent.
* The annual bicycle permit would be eliminated. Instead, passengers would pay with monthly passes, multi-ride cards or ORCA ePurse and would be allowed to bring bicycles on board without extra charge. The San Juan Islands would be an exception, where only multi-ride cards would be exempt from the bicycle surcharge.
* A fuel charge mechanism would be created to adjust to unexpected increases in fuel prices beyond what was budgeted for fuel. To trigger the surcharge, fuel costs would need to exceed the funded fuel price of $3.86 per gallon by 2.5 percent. Any change would need 30 days advance notice to customers.
* A surcharge of 25 cents is added to all fares system-wide, with the revenues dedicated to building new ferries.
If you have thoughts on these proposals, I'd love to hear what's on your mind. You can also send comments to the Transportation Commission by clicking here.
Visiting Camp Stand By Me
This residential summer camp for children and adults of all ages, with any disabilities, is an Easter Seals facility that works hard to give all campers access to traditional summer camp activities in a barrier-free environment. That means campfires, swimming, arts and crafts, boating, fishing, horseback riding, archery and other forms of outdoor recreation. The campers even got me to join in on singing a camp song (my apologies to every single one of the campers for my singing voice . . . I did warn them).
The great job done by the folks involved with Camp Stand by Me was evident on the faces of every camper I saw - and a testament to the role organizations like Easter Seals play in providing opportunities and services to folks throughout our state.
Discover Pass may be refined
I mentioned above that when the sun is out, there's an opportunity to visit our state parks. As many of you will recall, this past legislative session the state created a new Discover Pass as a way to provide funding for state parks to keep them open despite the state's budget shortfall.
I've heard from several folks in our neck of the woods who have raised concern about the fact that the Discover Pass applies only to the vehicle for which it was purchased and cannot, say, be shared among family members who use a different vehicle for a different trip. I think that's a reasonable concern in an age where the average household has multiple vehicles and families might not always want to use the same vehicle for all their trips.
With that in mind, I joined several of my colleagues in writing a letter to State Parks in hopes of persuading them to make the passes transferrable between vehicles within a family. In addition, the Senate Natural Resources & Marine Waters Committee is monitoring the Discover Pass program, tracking users' concerns and studying legislative options to address those concerns. Staff is also tracking the level of revenue raised by the pass and will project potential fiscal impacts of changes to the current pass structure.
It's vital that we keep our parks open and affordable for all Washingtonians, and the Discover Pass is doing that - but that doesn't mean the program can't be improved. In the coming months, the state will continue to look at ways to improve the pass when the Legislature convenes in January.
Working for those who serve
I had the honor the other day of being recognized along with a select group of legislators by the Department of Defense for leadership in passing laws that help military veterans and their families. The recognition came just as my legislation so help veterans transition into civilian jobs became law. In short, the bills make it easier for service men and women to receive credit for the training, education and experience gained through their military service, enabling that experience to be applied toward educational and licensing requirements in civilian jobs.
I'm certainly grateful for the kind words, but I look at it as a key part of my job. Our area is stronger because of the presence of our military and of the many veterans and their families who choose to make this region their home. It needs to be a high priority - for me as a legislator and for all of us as citizens - to ensure we have the backs of those who have sacrificed on our behalf. If you see opportunities where the state can be a better partner in those efforts, I'd value your suggestions.
Stay In touch
That's it for now. As I often mention, I work for you. If there's something I can do to help, don't hesitate to holler.
Until next time,