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.