Privilege and penalties

Published 12:15 am Friday, May 13, 2011

Should you have to pay for the privilege of driving to and from work?

If you’re a North Carolina taxpayer, you pay for road projects through the income tax and the gasoline tax.

But should you have to pay a toll to drive over, say, U.S. Highway 264 every morning and evening?

We’d venture to guess most readers would answer, “No.”

To our knowledge, there are no tolls on public roads in the Old North State.

But now, some legislative leaders in the west-central portions of our state, with their allies, would force people to pay more for a primary source of transportation, our state’s publicly maintained ferries.

On Thursday, Sen. Stan White, D-Dare, told the Washington Daily News that Senate leaders were on track to remove a House budget provision exempting the Hatteras-to-Ocracoke ferry route from a toll.

The House spending plan still would impose tolls on four ferry routes that currently are free, and raise tolls where they already exist.

The problem with this proposal is that our ferries aren’t used by tourists alone. These routes are traveled daily by state residents who need them to get back and forth to their jobs.

In Beaufort County, many people use the Aurora-Bayview ferry every day to avoid spending a punishing amount of money on gas and an unnecessary amount of time driving.

Apparently some lawmakers who live well west of here don’t understand the value of the ferry system, which they seem to deride as a sop to the tourist-rich east.

Perhaps they’d feel differently if they had to take the Aurora-Bayview ferry to access their legislative offices.

In reality, rural communities like Beaufort County aren’t rich in tourists or dollars.

The legislators pushing for tolls on ferries come mostly from areas that have benefited disproportionately in job and population growth, and in road funding.

Now, these same privileged lawmakers want to tell people who use the Aurora-Bayview ferry to pay $20 per vehicle per day just to make it to work.

By almost any measure of fairness, that’s plain wrong.

We already have used this space to oppose toll hikes on ferry routes in our state. Today, we use this space to call on the Legislature to heed local, bipartisan calls to keep our ferries free.

Our people shouldn’t suffer monetary penalties because they’re fortunate or unfortunate enough to live in locations shot through with waterways.

If, as White claims, the ferry system is an extension of the highway system, then ferries should be free – all of them – just as our highways are.

If you disagree, ask the fellow who will have to pay an extra $20 a day to cross the Pamlico how he feels about the situation.

This toll idea is one we can’t afford.