April 21, 2009 in City

Washington drivers may be asked for parks funds

Lawmakers propose voluntary $5 to ease ‘budget crisis’
Richard Roesler Staff writer

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The measure’s supporters and critics 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 e-mailed in and said, ‘Yeah, that’s right, shut ’em down.’ Nobody,” said Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City.

OLYMPIA – In a move designed to stave off the closure of dozens of state parks, the state House voted Monday 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 voluntary fee, 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 Attendance at state parks dropped, and lawmakers repealed the fee in 2006.

House Republicans tried to tack on a couple of amendments. One would have instead asked for a $1 donation from everyone visiting a park. The other would have taken $25 million set aside to buy parkland and instead used it to keep existing parks open.

“It’s important to families 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 without 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.”

Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or at richr@spokesman.com.

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