June 17, 2011

UPDATE: It’s now final – free Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry will stay free


With the North Carolina House and Senate override of Gov. Bev Perdue’s budget veto, Ocracokers are assured that the free ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke will remain free.

Republicans, who control the state legislature for the first time in about 140 years, included a toll on the state’s free ferries in their budget for the coming fiscal year.

House Democrats, including Rep. Timothy Spear and Rep. Bill Owens, who represent the districts that would have been affected by tolling the free ferries at Hatteras Inlet and Knotts Island in Currituck County, managed to get an amendment in the House budget bill to keep the tolls off those routes.

They were also instrumental in getting the amendment into the Senate’s budget.

Along with Owens and Spear, three other House Democrats pledged to support the Republican budget, ensuring enough votes in the House to override Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto.

Perdue vetoed the budget bill on Sunday night.

The Senate voted 31 to 19 Wednesday afternoon to override Perdue’s veto, and the House voted to override shortly after midnight Tuesday in a 73 to 46 vote.

The final budget at $19.6 billion is more expensive that what the House had proposed, but less expensive than what Perdue had proposed, which was $19.9 billion.

The education part of the Senate’s budget proposes $10.9 billion, down from Perdue’s proposal of $11.2 billion.

Democratic Sen. Stan White, who represents Ocracoke, said the Senate’s budget was formed on the elimination of the temporary 1 percent sales tax that was added three years ago and was set to expire July 1.

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

In a statement vetoing the budget, Purdue stressed that the diminished education appropriation would harm generations to come in North Carolina.  She had pressed for the retention of the 1 percent tax in order to retain the funding to education.

The final budget restores $300,000 to Hyde County schools, and funding for seven teaching positions at Ocracoke School is retained through to a special allocation for small schools.

In addition, funding for the N.C. 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.

Islanders had breathed a sigh of relief several days ago when the Senate’s version of the budget passed, and now it is a done deal.

“Stan and Tim fought very hard for Hyde and Dare counties,” noted Darlene Styron, a Hyde County commissioner from Ocracoke. “I’m very appreciative. I know it wasn’t easy for Tim.”

One of the Ocracokers who rallied the masses by using social media, Mary Haggerty, noted that this is the best possible outcome for islanders.

She set up the “Say No to Ferry Tolls” Facebook page and within a few days had more than 1,000 people join with more than 2,000 now.

“Social networking is a very powerful tool in organizing people, and we were able to make a lot of noise,” she said. “This would not have happened if it weren’t for all the calls and e-mails generated by the Facebook and other groups. There are only 1,000 residents on Ocracoke and not all of them are online. This really proves how passionately people feel about this place—residents, our Outer banks neighbors and visitors.”

She noted that an important networking tool she used was Twitter, which many legislators and Gov. Perdue also use.

Twitter, an instant messaging program, enabled Haggerty to instantly know what was happening in Raleigh and to update the Facebook page.

“I have never been involved in politics before because I didn’t think a few people could bring about real change,” Haggerty continued. “But we did it, and I am very proud to have been a part of that.”

Bob Phillips, director of Common Cause, a nonprofit group in Raleigh that lobbies for campaign reform, and who, as a friend of Ocracoke, kept an eye on the ferry toll  issue, noted that Ocracoke should be free from worrying about this for a while since the budget is for two years.

The legislature will have a short session next year from May to July, he said.

Although he said the ferry toll issue is behind Ocracokers, “They can always do anything they want in regards to appropriations.”

Tom Pahl, another islander who helped organize the effort, had said in an earlier interview that all the friends of Ocracoke worked very hard on the ferry toll issue.

“It’s a relatively small issue (in the grand scheme of the budget), but it’s our issue,” he said.

Previous Stories on ferry tolls

Ocracokers win another round in keeping tolls off Hatteras Inlet ferry
State Senate pushing for ferry toll at Hatteras Inlet

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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