Opponents of a $30 annual access fee for state lands are pointing to the not-so-distant past in arguing it would raise barriers to access by the poor and fail to raise the officially projected $71 million.
Attendance at state parks dipped by about 18 percent last time the state charged fees to park at them, and some research suggested the poor were deterred by the cost. Parks officials see that 2003-06 drop as modest and see a future decrease as preferable to closing parks. They point out that 41 states charge for entry.
States such as Oregon have done it for decades. People are willing to pay because they know parks don’t receive any of their taxes, Oregon parks spokesman Chris Havel said.
Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed similarly taking Washington’s state parks off the state’s general fund and moving them and other state lands to a “user-pays” philosophy. The idea is drawing support from lawmakers.
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“I’ve never seen everyone roll over for the governor so quickly. I’m surprised they’re not fighting back a little bit,” said former House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, who retired last year but returned to Olympia on Tuesday to testify against the bill. “They’re just saying, ‘We’ve got to raise the money; what do you do?’”
The state faces a $4.6 billion budget shortfall that is threatening parks along with social services, schools and every other area of state spending.
“Certainly if we have to close parks, then no one wins. Then attendance will certainly drop,” said Ilene Frisch, director of administration and finance for state parks.
But Kessler and others are questioning how much parking fees would help, given that the $5-a-day fee last decade raised a little more than $3 million. Lawmakers gave up on it after three years with Kessler leading the way and eventually moved to an optional $5 donation to parks.
Donations are popular but have fallen short of a $28 million projection. They now are expected to raise about $21 million. Kessler suggests doubling the donation amount, but parks officials say it wouldn’t raise enough money.
Instead, the Parks and Recreation Commission, with Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, the Fish and Wildlife Commission and key lawmakers have pitched a $30 annual “Discover Pass,” with a parking charge of $10 a day to anyone who doesn’t pay for the pass.
The annual parking fee is the same price as an annual pass to Mount Rainier National Park or a Northwest Forest Pass for national park trail access. It’s also the same as what Oregon charges for access to 26 parks. Admission to most Oregon parks is free; Washington would charge for all 119 parks and more than 6 million acres of other state land.
There would be more incentives to pay than under the old charge or the current donations, Frisch said. A survey indicated 23 percent of people would pay the annual fee, she said.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 firstname.lastname@example.org