State parks ‘tax in the box’ now on your license tab notices
If your car tabs are set to expire in September, you probably have received (or soon will) a renewal notice from the Department of Licensing. The renewal notice will appear nearly identical to those from previous years. However, beginning with the September notices, there is one very subtle, but important difference: A new $5 state parks fee is added to the “Total Fees Due” on the form.
In the past, you could “opt-in” and voluntarily donate $5 for state parks from your car tabs form. It was not included under “Total Fees Due,” but you could add that donation under the line marked, “Total Amount Enclosed.”
This year, the Legislature changed this feature to an “opt-out” system. The parks fee is now built into the amount due and you must consciously subtract $5 if you don't want to donate to the state parks.
Majority lawmakers expect most people won't notice this subtle little difference. They're counting on you automatically paying the line that says “Total Fees Due.” They anticipate millions more of your dollars will be captured for state parks from this new system.
I think it was a sneaky way to slip a hidden fee to unsuspecting taxpayers. That's not how state government should treat its citizens and it's why I opposed this “tax in the box.”
I support keeping our state parks open. My family and I are frequent users of state parks. State parks are choice destination spots of both in-state and out-of-state residents who come to enjoy some of the most beautiful recreational areas in the world. They also generate millions of dollars for our local economies. State parks are important to all of us. Yet it is precisely this reason why they were targeted for closure as the Legislature tried to cover a $9 billion budget deficit. People love their state parks — and those in power in the Legislature knew few would want to give them up. So it was an easy target to add this camouflaged tax increase, rather than prioritizing state parks as a part of the baseline budget.
There were better ways of saving state parks. I supported an amendment that would have transferred $25 million from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) into parks operations. Most of WWRP funds go into land acquisition. I questioned why we were purchasing land for new parks when we cannot maintain existing ones. This amendment could have kept our state parks open without the new opt-out tax. Unfortunately, majority lawmakers chose instead to conceal the tax into your license tab notices.
I will continue to support our state parks and I hope you do too. Citizens have the opportunity in several ways to supplement parks funding, including buying a state parks vehicle license plate — $28 of which goes toward park operations.
I also believe your government should be honest to you and not attempt trickery to take more of your money. Being aware of these new changes is important so that you can willingly make the conscious and voluntary decision of whether to pay the $5 fee for state parks or subtract it from the amount you send to the Department of Licensing.
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.