June 3, 2013
State Senate and House are slugging it out on ferry tolls
By CONNIE LEINBACH
forces are at work in the North Carolina General Assembly as the Senate
tries to increase ferry tolls and add them to the ferries that are
currently free and the House of Representatives works to remove tolls
on all ferries or at least not raise them and keep the current free
The House boosted the effort to quell rising ferry
tolls when it added the provisions of House Bill 475 to its version of
the state budget late last week, said Democratic Rep. Paul Tine, of
“We are working every available option,” Tine said Friday.
the House is fighting more and increased ferries tolls on two fronts –
through its budget and House Bill 475, which passed the House
Transportation Committee and now is headed for the House Finance
Committee’s review, which might occur this week. In addition to
an amendment added to the bill on Friday, it proposes removing
tolls from all ferries and raising more revenue through advertising and
“We want to give our side as much ammunition as possible,” Tine said.
Adding this measure to the budget helps more members of the House become familiar with the issue, he said.
However, HB 475 was changed in committee from its original form.
bill originally would have removed tolls on all ferries and allowed new
revenue streams to be explored, Tine noted in a Sunday e-mail.
“Rep. (Frank) Iler, one of the primary sponsors of the bill, ran
an amendment that changed the bill to no new tolls and no increases on
currently tolled routes,” the e-mail said.
“We need to (at least) keep the ferry tolls where they are or nothing,” Tine said on Friday.
Senate’s budget includes a provision to toll all the ferries in the
state, and the Senate has introduced a bill, Senate Bill 660, which
also calls for tolling all the ferries.
The House must submit its version of the budget by June 13.
McClees of McClees Consulting, which is the lobby group hired by Hyde,
Beaufort, and Pamlico counties to fight raising ferry tolls, explained
that after the House and Senate refuse to accept each other’s budget,
they will create a joint conference committee and argue about the
things they disagree on, such as ferry tolls.
Then, they will come to a negotiated settlement before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
Higher and more ferry tolls are favored in the Senate while the House is more sympathetic to coastal residents, she said.
If HB 475 passes the Finance Committee, it will go to the full House for a vote.
want the committee to put it on their calendar and be heard,” she said.
“This committee has 70 pending bills. So it is important for coastal
residents and friends to make their voices heard.”
of new tolls being enacted and current ones being raised on July 1 is
not a concern at the moment, McClees said, thanks to the more than 100
people who submitted letters of opposition to it.
of these letters, the proposed rules (to implement the tolls) must be
reviewed by the legislature before implementation, she said.
Those rules will be reviewed in the next legislative session, which
begins in January.
McClees said that this process may have been
confusing to residents, but it accomplished the goal of stopping the
implementation of the ferry tolls on July 1, which had been decreed in
January by the state Transportation Board.
is the Administrative Procedures Act,” McClees wrote in an e-mail last
week. “This may be somewhat confusing, as Chapter 150B has
nothing directly to do with ferry tolls, but has to do with the manner
in which rules (required in order to collect tolls) are written,
passed, and can be stopped temporarily. With (islanders’ help)
we stopped the July 1 imposition of the rules regarding
collection of tolls by submitting more than 10 letters before the
deadline of May 16.”
In an interview, McClees noted that the
Senate got wise to this trick and in its budget has exempted ferry
tolls from the “Ten Letter Rule” in the future.
“Our trick worked once,” she said. “They saw what we did with the rules and changed (the ferry toll imposition) to Nov. 1.”
This effort is a temporary stop-gap.
didn’t want these higher tolls to go into effect while we’re still
fighting them,” McClees said. “While there are many in the House
sympathetic to coastal citizens, the majority in the Senate are not.
They are very much of a mindset of user fees.”
this opinion are the co-chairs of the Senate Finance
Committee—Republican Senators Kathy Harrington and Bill Rabon.
are not interested in a compromise,” McClees said about the two.
“But that’s not so say that the Senate leadership won’t go along with
Moreover, she added, if tolls are imposed on all the
ferries, island residents cannot expect to be exempted.
Because North Carolina receives federal transportation money, it cannot
charge one group and not another.
Support for and the passing of House Bill 475 helps our side of the argument,” she continued.
this time the House and the Senate both have a Republican majority and
enough votes to get what they want passed. They do not need any
Democratic votes, as they did in 2011 when this fight began and former
Rep. Tim Spear agreed to vote for the budget in exchange for exempting
tolls on the Hatteras-Ocracoke and Knotts Island ferries.
McClees noted that the make-up of this legislature is different from anything that has come before.
is the first legislature that is half urban and half rural,” she said.
Before this one, the legislature was controlled by the more rural east
and western parts of the state.
“The East and West voted together and outvoted the Piedmont (where Charlotte and Raleigh are located),” she said.
and Raleigh are the fastest growing areas and are getting more
attention. The governor, speaker of the House, and Senate president pro
tempore are all from the Piedmont.
Nevertheless, in the grand
scheme of a multi-billion dollar budget, the small amount of $5 million
the legislature wants to wrest from higher ferry tolls is “small
potatoes,” McClees said.
“Really and truly, it’s just a little
bit of money in the whole transportation budget,” she said, “and it
puts the hurt on little people who can’t afford it.”