State should not rob housing funds to pay for parks

The Republican-controlled state Senate blocked measures introduced by House Democrats last year to eliminate obsolete tax exemptions to pay for critical government services, such as education and mental health treatment.

This year, the Senate is going a step further. Sen. Andy Hill, the Republicans’ chief budget writer, has thrown his support behind a plan to eliminate the Discover Pass, a two-and-a-half-year-old revenue stream that is bringing in more than 30 percent of state parks funding.

Faced with draconian budget cuts during the Great Recession, state lawmakers approved a $30 annual user fee rather than close down dozens of state parks. While the Discover Pass has not met its initial – and in hindsight, unrealistic – revenue projections, parks users have added nearly $30 million in incremental revenue to state coffers.

State Parks Commissioner Mark Brown calls that a success. He said it shows that Washingtonians are willing to pay to use publicly owned amenities.

But Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, believes citizens don’t like paying the fee. “It’s their state park, and they ought to be able to use it without charge.” But it would be hard to use parks that had to be closed for lack of funding.

If we followed Braun’s logic, we should remove tolls off the Tacoma Narrows and state Route 520 bridges, and off the state Route 167 HOT lanes. Just how far would Braun like to go?

And how would he pay for the services he thinks should be free?

We have no quarrel with paying for state parks out of the general fund. Closing a couple of the state’s many unintended tax exemptions could replace the Discover Pass revenue. That would provide free access to state parks for people of all income levels.

But that’s not what Braun and other Senate Republicans have in mind. They would rob low-wage workers and the homeless of a designated $10 recording fee on real estate documents. Counties use that money for housing programs.

In Thurston County, the recording fee funds are distributed through the Home Consortium to projects such as the Drexel House, housing for homeless veterans, shelters, Sidewalk, Quixote Village and SafePlace, where survivors of domestic violence and rape can take temporary refuge.

Braun’s proposal would also take money away from a state account that now funds the state library, but was originally meant to build a state Heritage Center. The latter is a pet project of Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, and her Republican predecessor Sam Reed.

This seems like a cynical plan to further reduce social services in Washington and scuttle the Heritage Center, rather than one aimed at solving some pressing problem. It’s just cruel to take money from those who need our help the most so, for example, people who have jobs can park their nice cars for free in a secure parking lot and use the restrooms at the base of a hiking trail.

Lawmakers should be ashamed to support this bill. Fortunately, the House will never pass it into law.