Several years ago, I was in a meeting with a legislator from Eastern Washington who claimed to have a big problem explaining to his constituents that the roads and highways they used to get their crops to market were heavily subsidized by tax dollars from the more populated west side of the state. They simply refused to believe they were not paying their own way.

Plenty of people resent having the taxes they pay go anywhere but to the things that benefit them directly. That has been a perennial problem for our Washington State Ferries. Taxpayers who seldom or never ride ferries think they should not have to chip in to sustain the system, even though we are all helping to build and maintain the roads and bridges that are utilized by the complainers.

This attitude has been reflected in Olympia where, year after year, legislators have failed to adequately fund the ferry system on which so many citizens rely and which is such a boon to the regional tourist industry. Now, we are witnessing the consequences of that neglect, with ferry runs being cancelled due to lack of trained workers and a shortage of modern, reliable vessels.

Puget Sound is unique in America. It is a long, narrow sea filled with inhabited islands and with millions of people living near its shores. That is why our ferry system is the largest in the country and why it is not merely a quaint amenity for vacationers. Like farm roads, the ferry fleet is a vital link in the state’s transportation web, and it is time to properly fund the system before it sinks. 

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