‘Tax in the box’ not the way to fund state parks

We live in some of the most beautiful recreational areas in the world. Our state parks are chosen destination spots of Washingtonians and out-of-state visitors looking for a getaway or a relaxing weekend. State parks also generate millions of dollars for local economies.

Rockport State Park, near Concrete, is a good example. Rockport attracted many campers, who also stopped in neighboring communities, where they spent money at gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores. When the state closed Rockport to overnight camping due to dangerous old-growth trees, it affected the local economy, even though day-use of the park is still allowed.

Now as local economies suffer through a recession, numerous state parks are being proposed for closure as a cost-saving measure, including Wallace Falls State Park.

Just like Rockport, Wallace Falls is an economic driver for Gold Bar, Index, Startup and Sultan. People come to enjoy the falls and hike the surrounding trails, and they spend money in nearby communities. Closure of this park could be devastating to local jobs.

The importance of state parks to our economy and the quality of life we enjoy in Washington cannot be understated. That’s why it should be one of the higher funding priorities in our state budget.

Yet it is precisely this reason why state parks are being targeted for closure as Washington faces a $9 billion budget deficit. People love their state parks — and those in power in the Legislature know few would want to give them up. So it’s an easy target to promote a tax increase, rather than prioritizing state parks in the budget.

In 2006, the Legislature repealed a $5 day-use fee to give more people access to state parks. Majority Democrats initially proposed to expand the fee to vehicle license tabs. That proposal was changed to an “opt-in” feature which now allows people to voluntarily choose to pay $5 when they renew their license tabs. This year, however, the majority party wants to change the voluntary opt-in fee to an opt-out fee. This means unless you willingly check the “opt-out” box on your license tabs, you would be charged this $5 fee.

I am concerned that citizens, especially the elderly, who receive their vehicle license tabs by mail will not be aware of this “tax in a box” and will pay it without knowing it was not required. It’s a sneaky way to slip a hidden fee to unsuspecting taxpayers. Majority lawmakers playing on the emotions of those who love state parks are using it as a way gain support for a tax increase.

Citizens have the opportunity in several ways to support our parks, including buying a state parks vehicle license plate — $28 of which goes toward funding parks. I also question if we do not have enough money to support our current parks, why is it that a large percentage of an $80 million appropriation in the proposed capital construction budget is directed for acquisition of additional land for parks and trails? Shouldn’t we redirect that money to existing parks?

We can do better than a camouflaged tax-in-the-box for parks. This is about priorities. Funding state parks should be part of our baseline budget. Closing parks would create more job losses during this difficult recession. Increasing taxes on families who have lost jobs is a bad idea. And imposing a secret tax-in-the-box on unsuspecting citizens is wrong. It’s not the way we should fund state parks.

EDITOR’S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.

State Representative Dan Kristiansen, 39th Legislative District
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7967 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000