New Funds for State Parks and DNR?
As the legislature prepares the 2009-11 Operating and Capital Budget proposals--and in the context of the possible closure of 30 State Parks--talk of a new revenue stream for State Parks is circulating in the House.
Representatives have been discussing adding a fee--say $5.00--to motor vehicle license tab renewals. Those who did not want to pay the fee could opt out, presumably at the point of renewing their license tabs. This proposal is similar to a system used in Montana, which enjoys around 75% compliance. Opt-out systems almost always see higher rates of compliance than opt-in ones. The legislators who have been talking about this proposal claim that if 40% of those renewing their tabs paid the fee, then we could adequately fund State Parks.
As a concept, we see some sense in this idea. Since no bill has been introduced, most of what we have to go on is conversations with advocates for State Parks and legislators who have been engaged in developing the budget. Having seen no specifics, it's difficult to take a position. But we can make some recommendations.
First, opting-out should not be difficult. Originally, the Montana system required those opting-out to drive to their county courthouse. Any system set up in Washington must be more transparent and user-friendly than than.
Secondly, this funding stream must not be considered the end of the story for State Parks. Both State Parks and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are essential agencies that perform an enormous public service, particuarly in difficult economic times. Dedicated sources of revenue such as tab fees must be matched by adequate general fund dollars--particularly during good economic times.
Finally, any tab fee revenue scenario should recognize the growing importance of DNR lands to recreation in Washington, with funds made available accordingly.
We'll keep you posted as we get more information on this emerging proposal as well as any other new options for funding State parks and DNR.