The Senate budget released Monday is good news for people who want more pavement for more dirt roads -- and bad news for Ocracoke residents, tourists, commuters and others who rely on the state ferry system.
The Senate rejects proposals by the House and Gov. Bev Perdue to postpone new and increased tolls on state ferry routes – and the Senate goes farther by refusing to exempt two ferries that both chambers had agreed last year to keep toll-free.
Perdue had issued an executive order refusing to collect the new tolls. The Senate budget explicitly attacks her order as "an unconstitutional attempt to exercise authority" that Perdue does not have, and it orders the Department of Transportation to ignore it.
House leaders had agreed with Perdue that ferry-dependent communities deserve a reprieve while they recover from the effects of recessiona and Hurricane Irene. The House budget proposed to give the ferry division an extra $2.5 million, to make up for the additional revenues that had been expected from the postponed ferry tolls.
The Senate budget directs the Department of Transportation to institute the higher rates and to collect tolls on all seven DOT ferry routes. That includes two that were exempted a year ago: the Currituck-Knotts Island ferry, used by public school buses, and the state’s busiest ferry route from Hatteras to Ocracoke, used heavily by tourists and Ocracoke residents.
The Senate proposes to kill urban New Starts and regional transit grant programs worth $28 million. And the Senate would spend $22 million more than the House to put asphalt on unpaved roads.