State should OK user fee for parks

Charging $30 a year for a parking permit will allow state parks to remain open

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The role of government is to provide services individuals cannot provide for themselves.

Given that, operating a comprehensive park system certainly qualifies as a function of government.

Yet, as Washington state government faces a fiscal crisis -- a nearly $5 billion shortfall in revenue over the next two years -- it's clear even worthy government services will be trimmed or even eliminated.

Critical services of government such as education, public safety (including corrections) and transportation must continue to operate and therefore can't tolerate deep cuts to funding.

That leaves vulnerable to deep cuts areas such as the parks system.

But lawmakers in Olympia are considering imposing an annual $30 annual fee to park on State Park, Department of Fish and Wildlife or Department of Natural Resources land. Purchasing the annual parking pass would essentially be paying a user fee.

"The reality is, we're talking about laying off teachers, getting rid of senior-citizens programs," said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, "That's the competition for parks. If it's seniors and kids versus the environment, who do you think wins?"

Ranker, chairman of the Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee, and Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, introduced similar proposals in their respective houses of the Legislature at the request of Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Those behind the plan hope it will raise at least $71 million -- including $60 million for the parks -- to make up for the amount Gov. Chris Gregoire's has proposed slashing from the state's general fund.

Supporters of state parks are behind the plan, including at least one lobbying group. The Tacoma News Tribune reported Jim King Jr., coordinator of Citizens for Parks and Recreation, said he and his group see the fee as reasonable and expects most to pay the $30 fee.

"In terms of everything else you pay for to go recreate, that's not a big fee," King said.

That's the same price as an annual pass to Mount Rainier National Park or a Northwest Forest Pass for National Park trail access, he said.

But if somebody truly couldn't afford the fee, there would an option to volunteer for at least 40 hours to help out on state lands.

This proposal is prudent and well thought out. Lawmakers should adopt this reasonable user fee in an effort to keep most state parks open.

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