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Parks-funding ideas would pick up slack from Discover Pass

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Feb. 7, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
February 7, 2013 6:12 pm

A key Republican in the Senate’s ruling coalition wants to put more money from the state’s main budget into state parks.

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The Discover Pass parking fee created in 2011 hasn’t raised as much money as anticipated, and the State Parks and Recreation Commission is asking for at least $27 million in general-fund money to make up the difference in the two-year budget being written now in the Legislature.

Under current law, parks are slated to receive no general-fund money at all.

Today Sen. Kirk Pearson of Monroe, the chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee, introduced a measure that would match Discover Pass revenue with an equal amount of general-fund revenue. UPDATE 6:10 p.m.: The matching-funds proposal now has bipartisan support, including from the Democratic lead on the Parks committee, Christine Rolfes.

If that had been in law in the current budget period, the parks commission would expect to receive about $27 million in state help on top of the $27 million in Discover Pass proceeds it’s expected to take in from mid-2011 to mid-2013.

The same measure also calls for giving the parks extra state funds to make up for what they lose by waiving Discover Pass and camping fees for the disabled, for low-income elderly people and others. It also adds food-stamp recipients to that list of people with free admittance.

Pearson also has another idea for finding some $20 million for parks — diverting it from litter-pickup and recycling programs.

passThat idea originally came from Dino Rossi during his brief stint in the Senate last year. It has backing from both the leader of the majority coalition, Rodney Tom, and its budget chairman, Andy Hill. Nevertheless, it may have a steep climb. “It’s not popular with a lot of people,” Pearson acknowledged at a public hearing that just ended on his bill – where it soon became clear he was right.

The litter money comes from an existing tax on certain groceries that was intended to be devoted to the anti-litter programs — although Pearson and other committee members noted that it has been diverted in the past for general uses. He suggests grabbing the funding again, this time for four years, while waiting for Discover Pass sales to improve. Republicans posted an audio clip of Pearson talking about it here.

Another point of contention is the bill’s mandate for Parks to use money for repairs and renovation that is now being spent on acquisition and development of land. Republicans say park operations must take precedent over buying more land, but parks advocates say the land development is often a way to encourage park attendance and Discover Pass sales.

About 11 planned projects would lose funding under the bill, including more parking at Nisqually State Park and the purchase of 214 acres of privately-owned land inside Nisqually State Park, along with a private RV facility directly adjacent to Millersylvania State Park in Thurston County.

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