April 16, 2009 in Washington Voices

Eye on Olympia: Voluntary fees may save parks

Richard Roesler
 

OLYMPIA – Would you pay more to keep local state parks open?

That’s the question lawmakers and parks supporters are trying to answer.

Earlier this year, state parks officials said that millions of dollars in proposed budget cuts would mean getting rid of some parks and closing dozens of others.

Parks, however, are popular. House Speaker Frank Chopp is an avid camper, and legislators in both parties value parks as a cheap outing for cash-strapped families – so lawmakers quickly floated the idea of adding a $5-a-car annual licensing fee for parks.

The plan comes with an unusual wrinkle designed to make it more palatable: the fee would be voluntary. As it’s envisioned, you wouldn’t have to pay if you sign a little statement on the bill saying you wouldn’t be visiting any state parks that year. Olympia’s best guess is that about half of car owners would pay, raising millions for parks. Montana has a similar voluntary $4 parks fee on car registrations, and most people there pay it.

This week, a private group called Citizens for Parks and Recreation released a 500-person poll gauging public reaction to the plan and several alternatives. How, random voters were asked, would you feel about:

•Reinstating a $5 parking fee at parks? (55 percent support)

•An unspecified tax on motor homes and campers? (52 percent support)

•A 1-cent-per-$1,000 property tax increase, i.e. $2.50 on a $250,000 home? (46 percent support)

•A $5-a-year hike in car license fees (the poll didn’t mention that it would be voluntary): 40 percent support.

Other suggestions come from the conservative Washington Policy Center, which for years has advocated a market-based approach. 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 to trudge through the rain at a tiny, little-used park in April.

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

Budget cuts, by the numbers …

In an idea borrowed from Harper’s magazine, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown has been compiling a daily “index” of bleak budget news out of Olympia. Here’s a sampling from recent posts. (All numbers are over two years.)

•Senate budget cut for higher education: $513 million.

•Average university budget cut, after a 7 percent annual tuition increase: 11 percent.

•Students who will not be admitted because budget cuts mean fewer spaces available: 10,500.

•Number of higher education employees who could lose their jobs: 2,500.

And how about K-12 schools?

•Proposed cut of Initiative 728’s smaller-class-size money: $753 million.

•Teacher cost-of-living increases that the lawmakers and the governor don’t plan to pay: $361 million.

•Number of teachers statewide: about 55,000.

•Number who could lose their jobs under the Senate budget: 2,500.

•Percentage of cuts to local schools after one-time federal stimulus dollars are included: up to 3.5 percent.

And all these numbers are in the face of growing enrollments. In just the past year, 4,300 more K-12 students have enrolled, as have 11,000 more college students.

The battle is joined …

Alan Parmelee, an inmate at the state penitentiary at Walla Walla, has filed a large records request for “any and all records in any format, from any agency and/or person, relating to the prospective and subsequent passing, directly or indirectly, of HB 1181 and SB 5130.”

The bills he cites are bills aimed at limiting excessive records requests by prison inmates.

“I think it’s fitting that the very person who prompted the law in the first place will be the legal test case to try it out,” Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said this week. Carrell sponsored the Senate version, which would allow courts to limit requests if they seem aimed at harassing or intimidating state officials.

Attorney General Rob McKenna has urged lawmakers to pass such a law, saying that some inmates have made a “cottage industry” out of filing massive records requests, then seeking cash penalties when the records are late or a record is wrongly denied.

Have a relative who fought in World War I?

Washington’s secretary of state’s office has been pretty innovative in bringing yellowed-paper archives out of their boxes in cool storage and into the digital age. The state’s Digital Archives has scanned in and hand-indexed years of territorial newspapers, old marriage records, and photographs, among many other things.

Now there’s a new feature: a searchable online database to find records of World War I veterans. The paperwork lists training, battles, wounds, birthplaces, and race (Welcome to 1919: the form lists only two choices for race – “White or colored” – and with that choice of capitalization.)

Like a lot of the Digital Archives documents, the information cards don’t provide many details, but they do give a glimpse into lives.

One 1920 record, for example, lists a Pfc. Alexander D. Munro, a Spokane man who was born in British Columbia. Munro enlisted at age 32 for a tour that saw him overseas in the final months of the war. He served in the “QMC,” which I’m guessing was the Quartermaster’s Corps the Army’s supply arm and was overseas from July 1918 to April 1919.

Sen. Sheldon, his gun-toting constituents and the “hot lead enema” …

State Sen. Tim Sheldon, who’s also a county commissioner in rural Mason County, told a local weekly that proposed budget cuts at the county Sheriff’s Office would likely be offset by the fact that local residents are handy with the steel.

“There is no bag limit. There’s always an open season on criminals in Mason County,” Sheldon, D-Potlatch, told the Shelton-Mason County Journal. “I think that the Mason County citizens are very well aware of how to protect themselves in a situation that might need a response.”

In follow-up remarks to a reporter from The Olympian, he described locals’ likely response to any home invasion attempts as “a hot Mason County lead enema.”

But of course, he added, his remarks shouldn’t be construed as urging people to take the law into their own hands.

Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or at richr@spokesman.com. For more news from Olympia, please see www.eyeonolympia.com.


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