In a move designed to stave off the closure of dozens of state parks, the state House of Representatives voted Monday night to ask motorists to pay an extra $5 a year per car.
Over Republican objections, House Bill 2339 passed, 56 to 42. The bill now goes to the Senate.
If half the state’s residents pay the fee — which would be voluntary — it would raise about $28 million for parks over the next two years.
“We are now in a budget crisis, and we don’t have the money to pay for our parks,” said Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam.
And if ever there was a time to keep parks open, she said, it’s now, when cash-strapped families need a cheap place to relax.
Lawmakers lifted the idea from Montana, where since 2004, motorists have been asked to pay a voluntary $4 fee to pay for state parks. Most do.
Washington tried a mandatory $5-a-day parking fee during a previous budget crunch in 2002. Attendance at state parks dropped by millions, and lawmakers repealed the unpopular fee in 2006.
House Republicans tried to tack on several amendments. One would have instead asked for a $1 donation from everyone visiting a park. Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, tried to add language to re-open parks closed since 2002, including Chief Timothy State Park, Lyons Ferry State Park, and Central Ferry State Park.
A third amendment would have taken $25 million set aside to buy park land and instead used that money to keep existing parks open.
“It’s important to famlies to fund this now, not to leave it up to speculation about who will pay, said Rep. Matt Shea, R-Mead. He lives two miles from Mount Spokane State Park.
Some lawmakers have also raised concerns about people paying the extra $5, not realizing that it’s optional. Several mentioned a 1991 court case that slapped a cable TV company for a similar opt-in fee. Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Bellingham, argued that the state is acting “as telemarketers, trying to fool the senior citizens of Washington State into giving $5 they did not know they had to give.”
Both sides agree that it would be a bad idea to shut down parks. Facing millions of dollars in cuts, the state Parks and Recreation Commission earlier this year prepared a list of 47 parks slated for closure or transfer to local governments.
“Nobody has emailed in and said, `yeah, that’s right, shut em down.’ Nobody.” said Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City.