June 1, 2011

UPDATE: Ocracokers win another round in keeping tolls off Hatteras Inlet ferry

By CONNIE LEINBACH


Ocracoke Island has apparently won the fight to keep tolls off the Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry.

In the budget unveiled Tuesday, May 31,  by the North Carolina State Senate Appropriations Committee, exemptions for tolls for both Ocracoke-Hatteras and the Currituck-Knotts Island ferries were written into the transportation section of the budget.

The Senate will vote on the budget in the next two days, during which some last-minute amendments may be added.

It will then go back to the House for concurrence, according to State Sen. Stan White, who represents Hyde County, in addition to Pasquotank, Tyrrell, Beaufort, Washington, Camden and Currituck counties.

“I think it’s over,’ he said Tuesday afternoon about the effort to enact a toll on the only free transportation access islanders have.
 
The exemption was inserted by the Senate bill writers through negotiations among the Senators and House members, including Rep. Bill Owens and Rep. Tim Spear, who had successfully introduced an amendment to the proposed House budget to change language which had called for enacting tolls on all three of the state’s free ferries and raising tolls on the tolled routes.

The current bill language is as follows:

The Department of Transportation is vested with authority to provide for the establishment and maintenance of ferries connecting the parts of the state highway system, whenever in its discretion the public good may so require, and to prescribe and collect such tolls therefore as  may, in the discretion of the Department of Transportation, be expedient. The Board of Transportation shall establish tolls for all ferry routes, except for the Ocracoke/Hatteras Ferry 57 and the Knotts Island Ferry.

Despite the good news for Ocracoke, it’s not a done deal yet.

But since this budget was negotiated with Democratic House members, White is confident the House will concur with it. It then will go to Gov. Bev Purdue who he expects to veto it, but not because of the absence of ferry tolls to Ocracoke.

“It’s an overall bad budget,” White explained, since it cuts into crime fighting, health and human services, and education over the next two years.
Rep. Tim Spear said in an interview Tuesday night that it’s a little premature to talk about a veto or not because the final budget version has not yet been passed.

“In some of these areas, the (funding) cuts are more than Perdue wanted,” he said.

Perdue's proposed overall budget is $19.9 billion, Spear explained. The Senate’s version is $19.6 billion, or a difference of $226 million.

The education part of the Senate’s budget proposes $10.9 billion, down from Perdue’s
proposal of $11.2 billion, or a difference of about a $257 million.

Nevertheless, the Senate budget restores $300,000 to Hyde County schools and funding for seven teaching positions at Ocracoke School to retain a special allocation for small schools.

In addition, funding for the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, a teacher training program that has a building on Ocracoke, was slashed to $3 million, from $6 million. The House version of the budget had eliminated NCCAT funding entirely.

White said the Senate’s budget was formed on the elimination of the temporary 1 percent sales tax added three years ago that ends July 1.

So, this revenue will be gone as Republican lawmakers make good on their promises to repeal this tax enacted by Democrats three years ago, he said.

Should Perdue veto the Legislature’s final budget, an override would need support by all Republicans and five Democrats in the House, White said. He said he has been assured that there are at least four Democrats who would vote to over-ride.

Tom Pahl, an islander and member of an ad hoc committee formed to rally against this toll and who has some experience in local government and as a political organizer, praised the efforts of islanders who mustered social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and websites, to rally support and encourage hundreds of people, locally and afar, to write to the legislators about this issue.

Mary Haggerty set up the Facebook page, “Say No to The Ferry Toll,” and monitors it daily. Tom’s wife, Carol, managed a blog space where Tom writes more detailed updates on the developing situation. Find it at www.saynotoferrytolls.blogspot.com
He stressed that this would not have happened without the efforts of many islanders and others.

“A lot of hard work by a lot of people got this issue on the table,” Tom said. “The Legislature is dealing with a lot of big issues but many press stories also mentioned the Ocracoke ferry.”

He said that this massive effort to persuade legislators against tolling the ferry--and for them to have listened--is democracy in action.

“Anyone who says government isn’t responsive says so because they aren’t doing it themselves,” he said. “This is why people fight and die for democracy.”


Previous Stories on ferry tolls

Amendment excluding the Ocracoke-Hatteras Ferry from a toll is threatened
House committee passes budget proposal that excludes tolls on Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry

Charging a toll on Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry continues to move forward in Raleigh

Outer Bankers are uniting to oppose tolls on Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry

Charging a toll for Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry under discussion in Raleigh



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