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Locke weighs in on transportation

Gov. Gary Locke joined a well-attended ground-breaking ceremony at the Retsil Veterans Home in Port Orchard May 16 to celebrate the impending construction of a new, 240-bed nursing facility at the site.

Locke was joined by assorted dignitaries, including Washington Department of Veterans Affairs Director John King and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi.

While the state is chipping in $16.7 million for the construction of the nursing home, the federal government has allocated $31.1 million toward the total construction cost of $47.8 million for the project.

“Our veterans ask very little of the country they served, but we owe them so much,” Locke said in a speech just moments before key dignitaries dug up huge mounds of dirt with golden shovels.

While the focus of Locke’s visit to Port Orchard centered on one of the state’s veterans homes, the governor spent a few moments after the ceremony to answer several questions regarding transportation, passenger-only ferries and even base closures scheduled for 2005, as they relate to Kitsap County.

Q: As the Base Realignment and Closure Commission gears up for the last round of base closures, set for 2005, are you confident the legislation approved in Olympia this year will protect Kitsap Naval bases from possible closures, particularly at Keyport, which even Congressman Norm Dicks has said is vulnerable?

A: “We will of course be working closely with the congressional delegation, the local chambers of commerce and others to state our case,” Locke said. “These bases are vital to the security of our country.”

Locke focused his response on a statewide level, rather than citing specific examples from Kitsap County. But in doing so, he stated the state’s military bases are modern, efficient and strategically important, especially following the events of Sept. 11 and the role they have more recently taken in the Gulf.

Q: Do you think Kitsap Transit can operate foot ferries in Puget Sound in a fiscally sound manner, when the state has struggled for years to do so? Kitsap Transit has a plan, subject to voter approval, to take over passenger-only ferry service in Kitsap County. The state plans to end foot-ferry service from Bremerton next month.

A: “That’s really up to Kitsap Transit to decide,” Locke said. “I am not privy to the details of Kitsap Transit’s proposal.”

Locke also said passenger-only ferries are convenient and very popular and, currently, Sen. Betti Sheldon, D-Bremerton, and Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, are standing solidly behind the agency’s plan to take over passenger-only ferry service in Kitsap County.

“They have said it’s a great opportunity,” Locke said.

Q: If voters reject Kitsap Transit’s ballot measure this fall, which will ask for an increase in sales and car-tab taxes to operate passenger-only ferries from Southworth, Bremerton and Kingston to downtown Seattle, do you think the state could decide to discuss operating passenger-only ferries again?

A: “We need to take it one step at a time,” Locke said.

Q: What was, in your estimation, the biggest lesson you learned while handling transportation talks among House and Senate leaders this session, most particularly during the now famous “pajama parties?”

A: “We really changed our approach this year with transportation leaders,” Locke said. “We decided not to lay out our (the governor’s) transportation proposal publicly at first, and we put together talks quickly and quietly.”

Locke said his proposal was not unveiled to the media first so “no one would harden their position.”

House leaders rolled out their plan to the media first, followed by the Senate. Only at that point did Locke’s office unveil a transportation plan, although it was discussed before the public at large knew about it.

“The media called the (governor’s) plan a compromise proposal to bridge the House and Senate plans together when, in actuality, it was out before either two,” Locke said.

The governor said leaders set significant deadlines and timelines, although they were not strictly adhered to at all times. Lawmakers, he said, grappled first with reform within the state Department of Transportation in an effort to gain public trust.

After that, lawmakers were able to talk about funding, he said.

“There really wasn’t much of a mood to go ahead with transportation planning this session with the failure of Referendum 51, except among the transportation leaders,” Locke said.

Q: Is the state transportation plan, the $4.2 billion, 10-year plan that hinges on a nickel gas tax increase, initiative-proof?

A: “Nothing is initiative proof,” Locke said. “It’s the constitutional right of the voters to bring forward such proposals, although, in this case, I hope they don’t because the transportation problem in this state could only get worse, and projects will only end up costing more. Something has to be done sooner or later for transportation.”

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