Lawmakers wrapped up work today on one piece of their budget puzzle.
They agreed to charge $30 a year to drive into state parks and forests and other state lands, sending SB 5622 to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature on a party-line House vote. The governor has supported the concept and included it in her budget plan.
Her legislative director, Jim Justin, said Gregoire needs to take a look at changes made by the Legislature but that she’s pleased the bill has passed.
The annual pass and a $10 day pass for those who don’t buy it would raise $64 million, with $54 million going to state parks and the rest divided between two other agencies that manage state lands, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish and Wildlife.Though it passed the Senate Wednesday on a bipartisan vote, final legislative approval came in the House today over the objections of all Republicans.
They complained that not all of the money goes to parks and questioned whether lawmakers might grab the money from parks in the future as they have done with many other dedicated funds.
“There’s no guarantee that the money this pass is going to raise will actually go to state parks,” Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, said. And Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard added: “I believe we’re setting our citizens up for a real disappointment.”
But Democrats said budget cuts would close lands to public access and cut down on maintenance and law enforcement at those that remain open, unless the new fee is approved to cover the gap.
“It fills the (budget) hole by having people who utilize the parks pay for the parks,” said Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila.
At $2.50 per month for use of 119 parks and the 6.5 million acres of land managed by the other agencies, Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, called the fee “an extraordinary bargain.”
Some who already pay to use state lands wouldn’t have to buy the pass because of exemptions for hunters, fishermen, boaters, campers and snowmobile drivers. And parks could pick up to 12 days a year for free access.