Attorney general sides with G.A. on ferry tolls

By on April 16, 2012

A mandate for higher rates could effect the Cedar Island route. (NCDOT)

An executive order by Gov. Beverly Perdue should be ignored and the state should begin to increase or add tolls on several state-operated ferry routes, the North Carolina attorney general says.

“It is our opinion that the state law as passed by the legislature must be followed. It was the legislature’s decision to collect tolls and the legislature has the authority to remove them,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Grayson Kelley said in a letter Thursday to Rep. Phillip Frye of Spruce Pine.

See the letter »

The state House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, which Frye chairs, gave unanimous approval in March to ask the attorney general for an opinion “on the legal effectiveness” of the governor’s order.

The executive order issued by Perdue in February delays until April 2013 increasing the tolls for the Ocracoke-Swan Quarter, Ocracoke-Cedar Island and Fort Fisher-Southport routes. It also stops plans to begin charging fares on the Bayview-Aurora and Minnesott Beach-Cherry Branch routes.

“The governor exceeded her constitutional authority when she ordered her administration to violate the law. We’re pleased the attorney general reaffirmed the separation of powers and upheld the Constitution,” said Amy Auth, deputy chief of staff for communications and operations for Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger.

Read the executive order »

“The Governor believes her executive order is both legal and right,” said Chris Mackey, the governor’s press secretary. “The Governor issued her order because she doesn’t think it is right to collect ferry taxes from working families in eastern North Carolina.

“If the Republican leaders of the General Assembly are determined to collect the ferry tax, they can do it when they return to Raleigh in a few days. The Governor’s executive order clearly states that the General Assembly can vote to end the moratorium at any time.”

State lawmakers are slated to return for a brief administrative session April 23.

House and Senate leaders have told members they do not have to attend, however, because no votes are scheduled to be taken.

“Based on the attorney general’s opinion, the ball is in the governor’s court,” Auth said in response to the statement from the governor’s office.

“The General Assembly already voted on this matter when we passed our budget last year and an executive order cannot erase a law,” Auth said. “If Gov. Perdue continues to direct the Department of Transportation to follow her order, then it is clear she has absolutely no regard for North Carolina’s laws and constitution.”

Hyde County manager Mazie Smith, said in a statement Friday that the tolls will cost the county an extra $60,000 in travel costs for government business between the mainland and Ocracoke.

A lobbying group hired by Hyde, Beaufort and Pamlico counties is organizing a protest in Raleigh when the General Assembly opens the “short session” in May.

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M Shaw

April 19, 2012 10:36 am

To answer blackfly’s question, under the DOT’s proposed tolls, there are no exemptions for government workers. Therefore, it will cost Hyde for EMS workers, school employees, social workers and county government workers to cross the Pamlico Sound and provide services to Ocracoke from the county seat of Swan Quarter. Looking at trips taken in past years, initial estimates from county departments tallied $60,000.


April 19, 2012 6:28 am

@Blackfly–As your comments show, you fail to grasp the essential principles of taxation. They are very like the principles of insurance. Do you understand how insurance works? Many people pay a set amount of money, called a premium, and the risk of confronting sudden large expense is spread across all of them. Not all will collect payments equal to what they have contributed. These are the lucky people who escape disaster. Their premiums (and the earnings thereon) go to the unlucky people who suffer a loss, in the form of payments on their claims. Thus when Nationwide has to pay a lot of claims to those who suffered losses in hurricane Irene, the premiums for everyone who buys Nationwide insurance coverage will go up a bit.

Those who never take a ferry in North Carolina might be said to get no more direct benefit from the system than those who pay their insurance premiums and never have to make a claim. But just as you benefit by the state’s requirement that every driver have auto liability insurance, so you, and everyone else in the state, benefits indirectly from effective public services.

I am not suggesting a tax increase for the ferry system. I am arguing that some of the tax revenues we already pay to the general fund of the State of NC should go to finance the ferry system because it makes a valuable contribution to the public good, i.e., the economic well-being of eastern NC.

Zed Cipher

April 18, 2012 5:13 pm

“If Gov. Perdue continues to direct the Department of Transportation to follow her order, then it is clear she has absolutely no regard for North Carolina’s laws and constitution.”

Yeah, it’s talk like this that’ll have a bunch of idiots asking to see her birth certificate. Good luck, idiots.


April 18, 2012 4:52 pm

Governor Perdue and the General Assembly all need to grown up and stop attacking each other. The Ferry Division needs to stop being a baby and start working to make the tolls feasible. The Ferry Division doesn’t want to collect the tolls because that would mean having to do some work. They have chosen outrageous toll amounts in hopes that the public will fight against them so they don’t have to do collect tolls. Make the toll fees reasonable. There should be a special rate for those that live on Ocracoke, special rate for those that do business on Ocracoke and the crazy rate for the visitors. These tolls don’t just affect the Outer Banks. The Bayview/Aurora and Swan Quarter/Minnesott Beach route are looking at outrageous tolls too. Most of their passengers are working commuters or military personnel. It is time for everyone to quit playing games and get serious about have plausible solution. If people want to keep their jobs something has to give.NCDOT – the state is not going to print money so you can have an unlimited budget.


April 18, 2012 8:13 am

ALLAN your comment citizens should PAY A FEW DOLLERS IN GENERAL REVENUES!! You mean raise our taxes!!!!


April 17, 2012 8:24 am

It’s about time Roy Cooper’s Office made a sound legal decision.


April 16, 2012 8:18 pm

I would like Mazie smith to show us how this will cost the county $60.000. ( It takes $ to make $$$$$$$) ?????


April 16, 2012 8:14 pm

I applaud the governor’s attempt to bolster and support the common good–a concept which has been abandoned by many state legislators, if they every understood it in the first place. For the common good of eastern North Carolina, all our state’s citizens should pay a few dollars a year in general revenues, instead of placing a greater burden on those whose livlihood depends on a functional ferry service. But the times are so selfish that I doubt the governor or local officials can prevail. Will the pendulum ever swing back to everyone’s paying a little so all can benefit a lot?

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