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Rep. J.T. Wilcox slams $30 parks fee

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Aug. 18, 2011 at 11:45 am with 10 Comments »
August 18, 2011 11:48 am
J.T. Wilcox

State Rep. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm is lining up with critics of the new Discover Pass that charges $30 a year to park on state recreational land.

The fee has drawn some questions since taking effect July 1, partly because of transaction fees that add to the price at some of the locations where it’s sold. Plus, drivers still pay $5 for state parks when they renew their car tabs unless they opt out of the voluntary donation.

Wilcox said in a news release this week it wasn’t necessary to charge for park access at all. He disputes supporters who backed it in the Legislature saying the fee was vital to avoid major budget cuts that would close state parks and other lands to the public.

Wilcox said the state could have kept open the most popular parks while closing those that are rarely used. Or, the Republican said, it could have transferred parks to local governments.

The fees are raising money that agencies say is already being put to use. Earlier this month, the state Department of Natural Resources credited the revenue for helping reopen a campground in Ahtanum State Forest southwest of Yakima. Snow Cabin Campground closed in 2009 amid budget cuts but is now open with some new picnic tables and fire pits, the department said.

Here’s Wilcox’s news release:

Discover Pass was not the only way to keep parks open, Wilcox says

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Labor Day and hunting season are around the corner, and with that come questions about the recently enacted Discover Pass for users of public lands. Second District Rep. J.T. Wilcox said he has received many questions and complaints about the pass, which is used in part to fund parks across the state.

“Some constituents are frustrated they have to pay for parks twice. They are confused about the implementation of this new fee – and rightly so,” said Wilcox, R-Yelm. “I did not support this when it was passed by the Legislature this year because it was unfair and unpredictable. Proponents sold it as the only option for keeping our parks open in light of budget cuts, and that is not true. The state could have transferred some parks over to local ownership for local communities to manage, or it could have closed parks that are rarely used in order to keep open the parks which are so important to families, visitors and outdoors enthusiasts.”

Wilcox asked on multiple occasions in public meetings and privately with proponents of the pass about a contingency plan in the event not enough funds were raised to ensure the parks stayed open.

“I was told the agency and the authors of the legislation didn’t have a backup plan and were confident this would work,” Wilcox said. “With my background in business, I’ve learned you can’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

Another option Wilcox asked about was allowing private volunteers and groups to keep the parks maintained for public use. Wilcox was again met with resistance, as state law and employee contracts prevent volunteers from helping to offset the current costs of maintaining parks.

“It’s disappointing that even if people wanted to help keep parks open, without a fee, they cannot,” Wilcox said. “There is too much bureaucracy for our own good in Olympia.”

The Discover Pass went into effect July 1 this year. In response to questions, Wilcox wants to help people understand how the pass works and when they will need it. A pass may be purchased wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold. People can buy a one-day pass for $10, or for $30 have access to the parks year-round. The pass is not required for those with a camping site receipt, or those hunting and fishing with licenses on lands managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

However, those with hunting and fishing licenses may still need to purchase a Discover Pass if they are using lands managed by the State Parks Commission or the Department of Natural Resources. To find out which lands require a pass, visit: www.dnr.wa.gov/recreation.

“I’m disappointed with the way the Fish and Wildlife has administered this fee, making it overly complicated,” Wilcox said. “It is so confusing for people to understand if they need to purchase the pass.

“In addition, the agency is charging an additional ‘transaction’ fee on top of the Discover Pass fee – a fee upon a fee! Meanwhile, the $5 opt-out fee on drivers’ license tab renewals remains. This means people are paying up to four times for the parks – through their general sales and business taxes, with an opt-out donation on their car tabs, with the $30 fee for the pass, and through the transaction fee on the pass. This piling-on will only create more distrust among people with their government.

“As a representative of the people, I will continue to ask difficult questions of our state government, and require better service for the people who pay for it.”

Visit www.discoverpass.wa.gov for more information about the Discover Pass and how it applies. Constituents can also call Wilcox’s Olympia office at (360) 786-7912 with questions.

Leave a comment Comments → 10
  1. Steve Jasper says:

    Where would the local ownerships get it’s moneies? With the job market where it is you think of the unemployed not having anything else to do they’ll volunteer when they themselves have bills to pay. If there’s a line of outfits willing to volunteer, who are they? You got to sell it with some substance. Don’t come out brain storming. Don’t pass the Buck! Anybody can do that. If it’s difficult to understand it won’t be after it gets rolling. Just make sure the monies collected are accounted for to the penny and that it’s spent strictly for what it was collect for. The Parks! Don’t like it? Go somewhere else or just don’t go at all.

  2. Local governments aren’t exactly flush with cash at the moment Rep. Wilcox.

  3. jimkingjr says:

    IIt needs to be noted that Rep. Wilcox voted FOR the House Republican budget which relied upon the Discover Pass revenues, and at no time did he offer any support for additional general fund or any other option for funding our State Parks and other state outdoor recreation sites. Without the Discover Pass it is not just a few little used parks that get closed- it is all but a handful that would close (over 110 of about 120 parks), as well as other sites such as DNR’s Mount Si and Capital Forest. Need to do your research, Rep. Wilcox.

  4. truthbusterguy says:

    jimkingjr is just trying to defend a bad bill that he was paid to lobby for. He has no creditabilty on this issue because he is biased by the cash he got to push this bad bill.

    Jim, go back under your rock and wait for the next chance you get to jump on an issue that brings you a paycheck.

    Lobbist like you are the problem in all governments.

  5. jimkingjr says:

    truthbusterguy- as a lobbyist, I received some compensation on this issue- less than $3,000, all from state parks supporters who ask me to be a voice against state park closures. Can you demonstrate that anything I posted is untrue? Do you ever do anything positive to help our State Parks? I thought not.

    Lobbying is a First Amendment profession, effectuating the people’s right to petition for redress of grievance. Going into OLympia without professional help is like going to court without a lawyer. But I guess you believe that no one should help citizens interested in the outdoors, or small business owners trying to stay afloat. I’ll put the worthines of my activities up against yours anyday.

  6. tractorneighbor says:

    Mr. Wilcox your piece here is exactly why I didn’t vote for you. Your idea that volunteers can maintain parks is not feasable. Nobody but a paid employee will pick up condoms, needles, porn and the other unmentionable items that really go on in parks daily across the state. All of that is on top of the lewd, nude other acts of public indecency we witness on a daily basis. Oh, by the way, my county government is looking to pass some of our properties on to the State Parks. Imagine that! When will you be ready to accept them??????

  7. So again, here is a Republican refusing to acknowledge that services cost money. Close everyone else’s parks, but not ours. Get real for once. What does he expect will happen without revenue? Parks stay open but public toilets don’t get cleaned? Enough with the rhetoric.

  8. Here’s a fat-cat “R” with more money in the bank than God and Moses and he’s griping about a $30 fee??? Do us all a favor, Mr. Wilcox…. shut up!

  9. truthbusterguy says:

    The democrats decided that health care for illegals was more important than state parks and schools. So they cut parks out of the budget and cuts funding to schools. Republicians voted against BOTH.

    Democrats have shown their priorties by their bills and their votes.

    Rep. Wilcox is right. This is a bad bill. It has driven people away from parks and will cause parks to close. Lets see the Discover Pass sales data.

    jimking and his bosses should have listened to former Legislator Lynn Keesler when she said, “This is going to exclude more people from our parks than ever before in the history of our state.”

    Parking lots at parks are empty. Again, where is the data of Discover Pass sales?

  10. tractorneighbor says:

    Truthbuster you are right. The bill is ridiculous. The people who most need access to our parks will not be able to afford it. On the other hand everybody thinks park work is a lark. Not true. Local governments are trying to pass properties off to the state and other agencies. Everybody wants to have parks close to their home but nobody wants to pay for them. A very sad situation for all of us.

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