Gregoire proposes regional ferry district, privatizing information services

Gov. Chris Gregoire announced today two distinct proposals that would further transform state government, transfer responsibility for state ferries to...

Gov. Chris Gregoire announced today two distinct proposals that would further transform state government, transfer responsibility for state ferries to a regional district and create a new “charter” agency, Consolidated Technology Services, to further consolidate and begin to privatize the state’s basic technology operations and services.

“These difficult times require bold action to not only save taxpayer money but to improve the way the state does business and serves the public,” said Gregoire. She added that the ferry system is facing serious financial trouble. Washington State Ferries has lost more than $1.2 billion in funding since 1999 when voters repealed the motor vehicle excise tax, or MVET, with Initiative 695. According to the national Passenger Vehicle Association, this lack of stable funding is a critical challenge to the system’s sustainability and level of service. The system faces a $900 million shortfall over the next ten years.

“Rather than patch together funding for the ferries for another two years and subject ferry riders and communities to more uncertainty, I believe it is time to take bold action so the system is sustainable, safe and accessible,” Gregoire said. “A regional district will give the communities and families who depend on the ferries the stability and control they deserve.”

The governor will introduce legislation to create a Puget Sound Regional Ferry District to operate the ferry system. The district would consist of all or a portion of the following counties: Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap, Island, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, King and Pierce counties. The district’s funds would come from fares, a state subsidy to fund a core level of service, and regional taxing authority to ensure service levels are consistent with local and regional needs.

After the Legislature creates the district, an interim board needs to form to begin discussions with the state about the level of state funding and other details. Once those discussions conclude, the Legislature would need to approve the state’s subsidy.

Gregoire has already started centralizing technology and implementing an enterprise-wide approach to agency email systems. She plans on expanding that effort by restructuring how the state’s information technology needs are met. This entire effort is expected to save the state $32 million over the next four years.

Her proposal would create a new “charter” agency, Consolidated Technology Services (CTS), to begin to privatize and further standardize the basic technology that state agencies use. The new agency’s guiding principal will be to procure whatever services it can’t provide internally, much like what occurs in the private sector. In order to do this effectively, CTS will be provided more flexibility to hire staff and procure materials and services outside of state government.

The governor will appoint a director to lead the agency. A customer-focused board of directors made up of executives from the state agencies CTS serves would approve the department’s spending plan, rate structure and the menu of services the agency would offer. The board would also submit performance evaluations to the governor.

The director of CTS and governing board will determine what services the agency offers and what the agency should contract out. This determination will consider cost, quality and reliability, but also security issues, federal guidelines and how integral specific technologies are to agency operations.

“Businesses cut costs by standardizing and consolidating the technology and support systems every employee needs,” Gregoire said. “There is no reason why the state can’t do the same and save taxpayers millions of dollars a year.”

To help guide and oversee these significant changes in the state’s operations, the governor proposes the addition of a Chief Information Officer to her cabinet. The CIO would create a strategic plan to guide the state’s information technology transformation, set standards for agencies and establish common technology framework that all agencies would utilize.

To read more on the governor’s ferry proposal, visit http://www.governor.wa.gov/priorities/budget/creating_partnerships_ferries.pdf .

To read more on the governor’s information technology proposal, visit http://www.governor.wa.gov/priorities/budget/creating_partnerships_it.pdf .

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