Ferry Tolls Mix With Local Politics
Tip O’Neill probably never intended that his quip be taken as gospel, with no exceptions and no corrections.
Still, politicians risk their political futures when they ignore his admonition, “All politics is local.”
When it comes to collecting tolls on the state’s ferries, some legislative Republicans — particularly in the state Senate — haven’t shown much interest in heeding the words.
It is true that, as the 2012 legislative session came to an end, state legislators had reversed themselves on a 2011 plan to increase ferry tolls and begin collecting tolls on some of the state’s free ferries. Many GOP legislators only did so kicking and screaming.
The reversal came only after Gov. Beverly Perdue, perhaps acting outside her constitutional authority, had refused to order the State Ferry Division to begin collecting the tolls. A Senate budget proposal, ultimately dropped in final legislation, would have ordered her for a second time to increase ferry tolls and begin collecting tolls on two of the state’s free ferries.
One of the chief proponents of all this ferry toll talk has been Rep. Bill Rabon, a Republican from the coastal town of Southport. Rabon says toll one ferry, toll them all.
His district includes one of those pay ferries, going from Southport to Fort Fisher, and under the Senate’s proposal that toll would have increased.
Rabon and his Senate colleagues don’t seem to get that the folks who rely on these free ferries pretty much see them as their bridges.
Two of the free ferries — one crossing the Pamlico River south of Bath, the other crossing the Neuse River north of Havelock — are vital to either workers employed at the Potash Corp phosphate mines near Aurora or the service members and workers employed at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station at Havelock.
Both cross relatively short stretches of tidal rivers no different from other bodies of water connected by bridges.
The third free ferry connects Hatteras Island to Ocracoke Island, which can only be reached by ferry.
Proponents of tolling these ferries, and raising other ferry tolls, say ferry operations should be self-supporting.
The residents who rely on them have a simple retort: We pay gas taxes too, so they are self-supporting, in the same way that bridges are self-supporting.
What’s surprising about the entire debate is how some legislators have shown little concern for local sentiment.
The ferry tolls are exactly the kind of thing that O’Neill was talking about all those years ago.
Out in the real world, people might not hold their local representative responsible for a political scandal involving a politician of the same political party. They might dismiss big, nebulous battles over health care as more partisan wrangling.
Affect their pocketbooks in noticeable ways in which it is easy to draw lines of blame, and they will punish those politicians at the polls.
In O’Neill’s day, and today, it’s the same.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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