State parks system must be trimmed to survive

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The state’s 117 parks scattered throughout Washington enhance living here. State parks provide a wide array of places where people can take a vacation, a weekend getaway or even a day off to enjoy all the natural beauty Washington offers.

But is keeping every one of these parks operating a higher priority than funding schools, law enforcement or social services?

Not to most of us.

The harsh reality in today’s economy is not everything funded in the past can be funded to that level in the future. The gap between tax dollars collected and the state’s needs and wants has been growing larger year after year.

As a result, lawmakers sought to wean the parks system off of tax payment subsidy and operate solely on revenue from user fees.

The idea has fallen far short of expectations, which was for the system to be operating with zero tax dollars by now.

It’s become clear the state Parks Department simply can’t operate without some tax subsidy.

The state Senate seems to have taken a prudent approach in its budget proposal for parks. The Senate, controlled by Republicans and two conservative Democrats, in looking to allocate $16.4 million for the next two years. That is 20 percent less than approved for the past two years and 80 percent less than the 2007-2009 budget. The dollars being pitched might need to be adjusted, but the principle is sound.

The parks system needs enough money so that when it’s combined with user-fee revenue it can keep the majority of parks in the system operating.

“I can’t sit here and tell you, in our centennial year, we can keep all our parks open. Rather, it is almost certain to result in park closures,” Rodger Schmitt, the chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, told lawmakers at a hearing last week in Olympia.

We would expect park officials to target the parks that aren’t cost effective — those with higher costs than can be justified for the number of visitors.

People are going to get angry. That’s to be expected. Park officials and lawmakers must explain their positions are being made for the greater good.

Making the necessary cuts now will eliminate ongoing costs and reduce the need for cuts in the future. This should eventually result in the parks system finding a balance point that will allow it to operate with a small state subsidy and user fees.

It’s not what anybody wants, but it is what needs to be done in the current economy.

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