Based on my personal experience, I believe that the most important task of our state representative is to protect the integrity, independence, and local control of the Steamship Authority. It is the trump issue in the current race to fill the seat being vacated by Eric Turkington.

Our state representative may be only one of 160 in most legislative matters, but in cases of Steamship Authority business our elected voice really matters.

I first saw this when I served as an intern to Rep. Benjamin Mayhew, back in the days when the Vineyard had its own seat. I have continued to see this as town counsel for various of the Vineyard towns for the past 25 years. I found that the advocacy of our state representative was crucial during my eight intense years as the Vineyard governor to the Steamship Authority.

Although the Steamship Authority was created by the Massachusetts legislature, it operates as an independent entity. Voting control rests with the Vineyard and Nantucket. It does not serve under any other branch of state government but only to its board of governors, all of whom are appointed or elected locally. The SSA is the only public transportation authority in the country, of which I am aware, which operates without governmental subsidy. The entire costs are borne by us, the rate payers.

Contrary to the recent letter sent by Rep. Matthew Patrick of Falmouth, the communities served by the SSA — not the state — bear the cost of any deficits run by the SSA in direct percentage to their proportionate voting interests. Thus, the governors are motivated strongly to keep fares low and operate without a deficit.

For 20 years Islanders have had a friend and ally in state Rep. Eric Turkington. I believe it is crucial that we fill his seat with someone who has shown an equal commitment to retaining local control of the Steamship Authority, our lifeline.

During my time on the Steamship Authority board of governors, I had occasion to work with Tim Madden when he was a Nantucket selectman, and thereafter as Nantucket’s legislative liaison to Representative Turkington. I know from my own personal experience that Tim Madden is a good and fair person and believes strongly, as I do, in preserving the independence of the Steamship Authority.

I was disheartened to read that Daniel Larkosh, in the Sept. 12 edition of the Vineyard Gazette, came out in favor of the bill which would “put oversight with the state Department of Transportation.” I am also concerned that Mr. Larkosh has been endorsed by Representative Patrick of Falmouth and by the union (during the Democratic primary) that represents most of the SSA’s vessel employees. Both Representative Patrick and the SSA union have been actively supporting two pieces of legislation which would undermine local control of the Steamship Authority.

In 2005 and again in 2007, bills were filed in the Massachusetts legislature which would:

• Mandate that all labor disputes be resolved by binding arbitration;

• Make the Steamship Authority a formal arm of state government within the Executive Office of the Secretary of Transportation (together with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the MBTA, the Mass Port Authority, and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, among others);

• Grant the Department of Transportation a member and a vote on the Steamship Authority. Fortunately, through the good work of Representative Turkington and Sen. Rob O’Leary, these most recent legislative efforts were defeated, but they will return. I know from my time as Steamship governor that there are certain legislators who want the Steamship Authority as an arm of state government because of the number of jobs involved and, unfortunately, the opportunity for patronage.

The bill requiring binding arbitration was filed by Representative Patrick. This bill, which had the full backing and financial support of the SSA’s largest union, would in effect transfer authority to negotiate with labor unions from your appointed representative to an arbitrator. The MBTA is similarly mandated to have binding arbitration and the result has been financially disastrous.

It is instructive to compare the fare increases of the SSA compared to the MBTA from 1997 to 2007. The MBTA’s fares have increased by a whopping 94.4 per cent over that period while the SSA’s passenger, automobile and freight rates to the Vineyard have increased by 30 per cent for passengers and 38 per cent for cars and trucks. In sum, fares at the MBTA have tripled over fare increases of the Steamship Authority. Further, the MBTA’s fares cover only 45 per cent of its cost of service while the Steamship Authority’s operations are funded entirely without subsidy.

When you do the math it is simple: we cannot afford to lose local control of the Steamship Authority. We must have a representative on Beacon Hill who will fight to protect the integrity of our lifeline. Therefore, I urge you to vote for Tim Madden as state representative.

Ronald H. Rappaport is an Edgartown attorney who represents five of the six Vineyard towns and the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. He served as Vineyard Steamship Authority governor from 1993 to 2000.