Perdue to block planned increases in coastal ferry tolls
Posted February 28, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Beverly Perdue said Tuesday that she will issue an executive order to delay for a year tolls scheduled to go into effect in April on five coastal ferry routes.
Calling the increases, which were mandated by state lawmakers last year, a "ferry tax," Perdue said the moratorium would give area counties more time to rebuild their economies after the recession and Hurricane Irene.
“It is unjust for the General Assembly to balance their budget on the backs of coastal working men and women," she said in a statement.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger called Perdue's action illegal.
“We expect the Department of Transportation to follow the law," Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement. "Because Gov. Perdue and our predecessors in the legislature nearly bankrupted the state, we had to make tough decisions to balance the budget, including implementing a minimal user fee to offset a small percentage of the cost of coastal ferries, which are funded by every taxpayer in North Carolina.”
The 2011-12 state budget mandated that the state Department of Transportation raise $5 million a year through new ferry tolls by the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Lawmakers exempted the Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry from a toll because they said there had to be a free way to get off Ocracoke Island. They also exempted the Knotts Island-Currituck route because it regularly carries school buses to eliminate adding an hour onto bus routes.
Area residents who use the Bayview, Cedar Island, Cherry Branch, Southport and Swan Quarter ferries aren't so lucky. Tolls on those routes were set to begin – Bayview and Cherry Branch are currently free – or increase April 1, although the DOT hadn't yet set rates.
Boards of Commissioners in Pamlico and Beaufort counties have set aside up to $40,000 between them to hire a lobbyist to persuade lawmakers to rescind the tolls. Hyde County commissioners were expected to vote next week on joining the effort.
Ferry passengers also a petition drive going to show lawmakers the extent of opposition to the higher tolls.
Perdue instructed the DOT to find enough spending reductions to offset the amount that the toll increases were projected to generate.
At the end of the 12-month moratorium, the DOT could review the economic conditions along the coast and decide whether to begin collecting the higher tolls or delay them further, the governor said. Although the budget required the new tolls, state law gives the DOT the discretion of whether to collect them, she noted.
Still, she said, lawmakers could vote in their session that begins in May to terminate the moratorium.