April 21, 2011 in Nation/World

Bill to charge park visitors heads to Governor

Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The state House on Thursday sent to Gov. Chris Gregoire a bill that would charge for access to Washington’s 119 state parks and millions of acres of public land to help address a revenue shortfall.

The House voted 55-42 to require most state recreation site visitors to purchase a $30 annual vehicle pass or a $10 single-day pass. Individuals who hold certain hunting and fishing licenses or various other permits would be exempt.

Most of the initial proceeds would go into a special state parks fund. The rest would be divided between the state Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Lawmakers are facing a projected $5 billion deficit in the next two-year budget. Nearly all aspects of state government have seen cost-cutting measures.

“We need to figure out new ways of doing things through this crisis,” said Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, who chairs the House General Government Appropriations and Oversight Committee. “The bill before us fills the hole by having the folks who use the parks pay for the parks.”

The state’s parks system has long suffered from money troubles, with their allocations often being raided to patch other problems in the state’s budget or their services cut.

Supporters said the bill asks people who use recreation sites to help pay for them. Critics said it would discourage attendance.

Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark applauded the passage, saying it will allow the Department of Natural Resources to keep several state lands open to the public.

“State-owned lands have long struggled for financial solvency. This bill puts them on steady ground, adept and ready for the future. I’m very encouraged by the swift action taken by the House,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island.

The Senate passed the bill Wednesday.

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