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Eye On Olympia

Posts tagged: fee

House approves voluntary $5-a-car fee to stave off state park closures…

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 Attendance at state parks dropped by millions, and lawmakers repealed the unpopular fee in 2006.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.

Poll on parks fees, and how much they’d raise…

A new poll re: possible tax increases to support state parks comes back with these results:

-$5 fee to park at parks and trails? 55 percent support, 43 percent don’t.

-an (unspecificed) tax on motor homes and campers? 52 percent support, 43 percent don’t.

-A 1-cent-per-$1,000-value property tax increase (i.e. $2.50 on a $250k home)? 46 percent support, 50 percent don’t.

-A $5-a-year increase in vehicle license tabs? (No mention made of the fact that this would be a voluntary charge, which is what lawmakers are talking about): 40 percent support, 56 percent don’t.

The poll was commissioned by Citizens for Parks and Recreation. Below is coordinator Jim King’s explanation of where the proposed tax ideas came from and why the car-tab one didn’t include the “opt-out” provision.

But first, how much money would these things raise, anyway? From King:

-The day use/parking fees were raising about $8 million per biennium when they were discontinued in 2006.
-The RV tax would raise just under $40 million per biennium.
-The one cent per thousand dollars of assessed valuation property tax would raise about $18 million per biennium.
-The $5 license tab fee raises about $5.6 million per biennium for every ten percent of vehicle owners who choose to pay- $28 million per biennium if 50% pay, $22.4 million if 40% choose to pay, etc.

And from his letter:

To all persons interested in our State Parks:

Attached are the results from polling done a week ago, looking for some data on various state parks funding options that have been considered in recent years.  The day-use, or parking, fee was in place from 2003 into 2006; the RV tax was considered in 2003 as a recommendation of the State Parks and Outdoor Recreation Funding Task Force that met during the 2002 interim; the “penny for parks” proposal has been advanced by Senator Mary Margaret Haugen and others in recent years; and the $5 car tabs is currently the leading option under consideration for filling some of the gap in State Parks funding.

We specifically did not ask whether people supported or opposed the “opt-out” car tab proposal, but instead tried to measure support for paying a $5 car tab, because what is important in that discussion is not whether people would support or oppose an ability to “opt-out” but whether or not people would be willing to pay the additional $5 car tab.

UPDATE: Jason Mercier, at the Washington Policy Center, forwarded this set of recommendations from the last time the state was trying to figure out how to keep parks open in the face of a big budget shortfall.

The report urges daily fees, and would vary the cost by how nice/popular the park is. It’s silly, the report suggests, to have a carload of six pay the same price at a popular park on Labor Day weekend as some loner pays to trudge through the rain at a tiny, little-used park in April.

What about low-income families? The report suggests corporate sponsorships, coupons from local businesses, free access for children who qualify for free school lunches, and discounted days.

“With these complementary actions, Parks and Recreation Commissioners and State Legislators secure the future of Washington’s state parks, while keeping faith with park users and other taxpayers,” wrote report author Jeff Hanson.

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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