Legislative Update - Week 2
The legislative session is whipping by. This year's short session - sixty days - is already ten days old, and some trends are beginning to emerge that should make some of our work easier and some of it a bit stickier.
I thought I'd take a few moments to give you a quick rundown of what's happened to date. Given that the Governor's proposed supplemental budget would force DNR to shutter such core hiking opportunities as Mount Si, Little Si, Rattlesnake Mountain and Lake Spokane, we're going to focus on DNR's budget in this update.
One of WTA's top legislative priorities this season is restoring the $278,000 proposed cut to DNR's recreation general fund appropriation. This amount is just a little more than .01% of the $2.6 billion that must be cut to fill this year's budget gap, and the cut is in addition to the 60% cut to DNR's recreation program last year. This cut should be restored as the it is a small price to pay to preserve the unique hiking opportunities and economic benefits that Mount Si and the many other sites DNR would have to close represent. Generally speaking, legislators are receptive to the idea of restoring those funds, but they're faced with a great many challenges this year.
Even if DNR's funding is restored this season, it is only a first step. The legislature must develop a long term sustainable funding source for this increasingly important recreation agency. There are positive signs that lawmakers have started to address this funding gap.
HB 2480 and SB 6237 - bills based on some of the recommendations of the DNR-convened Sustainable Recreation Work Group - have passed the House Ecology and Parks and Senate Natural Resources, Oceans and Recreation Committee. These bills would give DNR the authority to charge user fees at high use sites, would require DNR and other agencies to evaluate the potential for a statewide recreation pass, and would set up a pilot concessionaire program to study the possible revenue opportunities that might emerge. Those bills have been referred to the General Government Appropriations Committee in the House and the Ways and Means Committee in the Senate.
While the funding in these bills is not enough to sustain DNR, WTA is pleased to see a growing recognition that these close-to-home recreation opportunities need to be funded. We have been talking with lawmakers and have learned that any budget request is going to be a hard sell this year. If you want to ensure the trails you love continue to be open and funded, you need to speak up.
Your voice is so important. Please take a moment and call the legislative hotline at (800) 562-6000 and urge your legislators to support the restoration of DNR's funding. Tell them how much you care about these critical DNR landscapes. You can find your representatives and senator here.
Also, there is still time to sign up for WTA's Hiker Lobby Day on Feb. 3, where you'll have the opportunity to send that message to your elected officials face to face. The deadline to sign up is this Sunday, January 24.