Should state hike park fees?

AUG. 11, 2010

By KATY GRIMES

Even with recent hefty park fee hikes, a battle between supporters of state funded parks and anti-tax groups resumed in the Legislature yesterday, over an upcoming ballot initiative that would add $18 to every vehicle registered in the state, in order to fund state parks.

On Tuesday, the Senate Natural Resources and Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife committees joined together and held a mandatory hearing about Proposition 21, before the ballot proposition could be voted on in November.

More than 100 people attended the hearing wearing green “Yes On 21” t-shirts, in a show of support for the measure. However, not everyone present was supportive of the measure.

The Department of Parks increased fees 100 percent in 2009. In 2008, in exchange for a $10 surcharge on vehicle license fees, Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, proposed to create a State Parks Access Pass, but it did not pass the Senate. In 2009, the Budget Conference Committee voted to eliminate general fund budgeting for state parks and replace it with a new “funding source,” in the form of another State Park Access Pass or Vehicle Park Pass, based on Laird’s 2008 proposed legislation, but it did not make it to the final state budget.

Proposition 21 is similar to Laird’s all-access-pass proposal, and the 2009 proposal, but with a higher vehicle licensing fee.

A representative from the Legislative Analyst’s Office testified that an $18 annual surcharge would be added to vehicle registrations in the state, in order to provide funding for state parks. Owners of vehicles that pay the surcharge would have free admission and parking at all state parks.

If the measure does not pass, state park and wildlife conservation programs would continue to be funded through existing state general fund and local funding sources, according to the LAO. Admission and parking fees could continue to be charged for vehicles entering state parks.

State Parks Director Ruth Coleman testified that the state parks system has been underfunded by more than $120 million annually, causing a horrific backlog of maintenance.

The department has 278 state parks, covering 1.5 million acres of land. The state parks department employs 2,400 full time employees, and 7,500 part time or seasonal workers. The department has more than 20,000 volunteers worth about $21 million, according to Coleman.

Coleman explained that the state used to fund the parks department primarily through the general fund. However, since the 1980s, general fund support for the parks has dropped dramatically, leaving the parks department vulnerable to volatile seasonal revenues.

Critics of the measure say it is a “trick” to bring back the car tax. Michelle Steele, a State Board of Equalization member, and Peter Foy, California Chairman of Americans for Prosperity, filed a rebuttal to Proposition 21, calling the measure  “well-intended,” but said it is still a tax.

The measure will still allow for additional fees to be charged in the parks, according to the rebuttal filed by Steele and Foy.

Also critical of the measure is the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. In testimony at the Tuesday hearing, HJTA Legislative Director David Wolfe asked the committees “to be mindful of continuing to increase taxes.” Referring to a “budget shell game,” Wolfe said of the measure, “It’s a tax masquerading as a fee.” Wolfe said that was “reason enough to oppose the measure.”

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, addressing Wolfe said, “Whether it is a tax or a fee, it was brought by the people.” Calling it a “fee canard,” Huffman repeated, “the measure was brought by the people.”

“The issue has been defeated before in John Laird’s legislation,” Wolfe replied.

Also appearing at the hearing was Gene Erbin, representing automobile companies. Erbin told the committees that the Legislature has an “insatiable appetite to assess fees on the public,” and said, “vehicle programs are limping along,” while state-funded programs do not. Erbin said, “The CARB program does not limp.”

“Nothing in the bill prohibits more fees,” said Erbin.

The LAO said that $500 million in fees would be collected for the state parks, even with a $50 million loss of day use fees.

Explaining its position on the measure, on the HJTA Web site the association said, “California is already one of the nation’s most overtaxed states with already exorbitant taxes being spent poorly on a wasteful and inefficient state bureaucracy.  Opponents point to recent elections where new taxes have been soundly rejected and polls showing that California voters oppose new taxes while believing government is guilty of widespread wasteful spending. Maintenance of state parks is an important government function, but it is one politicians already have the tax revenue to perform if they were able to prioritize and exercise more fiscal restraint and responsibility.”

The “Yes on Prop 21” Web site states, “Twice in the past two years, state parks were on the brink of being shut down. The measure will create a stable source of funding for state parks.”

Director Coleman addressed the consequences of many years of budget cuts to state parks: “We are a chronically underfunded department. The $120 million annual shortfall creates deferred maintenance, and deferred maintenance always costs more.”


7 comments

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  1. Tylerle13
    Tylerle13 12 August, 2010, 07:43

    This measure is a complete SCAM!

    The crazy representative from Long Beach, I believe his name is Alan Lowenthal(The same A-Hole that wants to ban free parking across California to fight global warming), is intentionally trying to Scam the people of California. The costs to operate the parks had its funding approved by the legislators, but then Lowenthal spoke up and demanded that they revoke all of that funding because, as he states, “If the parks are already fully funded, then there will be no insentive for the voters to agree to a tax increase”. (There is audio of this out there)

    They are revoking the park funding to use as their slush fund to pay off their friends, funnel more money to their pet projects, & fund the construction of more building with their names on it. They are crying wolf about not having the money to fund the parks program, but in reality they dont have the money to fund their BS projects, so they steal it from something they think people care about, then tell the people the only way it can be funded is to agree to ANOTHER car tax. In reality, this car tax has nothing to do with the parks, it is just a shell game that allows them to continue spending recklessly without having to cut any of the waste & fraud out of all of the BS programs they have dreamed up over the years.

    Vote this scam down and make these scumbags learn to live on a budget like the rest of us have to do.

    Reply this comment
  2. Wayne Martin
    Wayne Martin 12 August, 2010, 09:37

    This is another example of how badly managed California is, both fiscally, and physically. A simple transaction/use model of the State Parks management/operations (based on true-costs) provides the following situation:

    Total-cost-per-visitor= Land acquisition Costs + Yearly Operational Costs +
    Yearly Long-term Capital/Maintenance Costs)
    / Yearly-Number-Of-Users

    Putting aside the land acquisition cost for a moment, and considering only the operational costs, the total number of users, and the long-term maintenance costs (numbers for which can be found from surfing the web), we find:

    Total Number of Yearly Visitors: ~80M
    Yearly Long-term Capital/Maintenance Costs: $130M
    Yearly Operational Costs: $468M

    This means, on a True-Cost basis, the per-visitor cost to run the current parks is about $7.50 (If land acquisition costs were to be considered, then this cost would increase somewhat.)

    This brings the cost-per-car to about $35/visit.

    (Note—the data provided by the Park System does not provide finer details, such as the average number of days/nights that a car/visitor stays during a visit. Most parks charge on a per-night basis, so this $35/car would be a theoretical max.)

    While a Park System analysis might provide more granularity, we don’t seem to find any such analyses on the Park System WEB-site.

    As a taxpayer, I scratch my head wondering why the “geniuses” in Sacramento cannot come up with a similar model. It is astounding to me that anyone can claim that they can afford a car, gasoline, time off to visit the parks, but they can’t afford forty dollars per car in order to make the parks operate properly—for their enjoyment and use.

    I would be willing to forgo the land acquisition costs, under the proviso that the state has some role to play in providing parks. Personally, I believe parkis are a nonessential service of government, and therefore should be totally paid for by the users. However, in order to keep things simple, I see no reason not to allow the state to target the use of some of its lands that it already owns, for park use, at no cost to the users

    The only issue I can see is collecting the fees from the visitors without having to staff every entry-exit of each park. Given the ubiquity of electronic funds transfer (EFT), it would seem that using credit cards, or a state-issued cash card, would allow money to be collected in a meaningful way that would provide the funds for the parks.

    If anyone reads the articles in the mainstream press on this issue, the media shows no understanding of simple financial modeling, any understanding of total-cost accounting, or any belief that users should pay for their use of the parks. For the most part, the total costs of running the parks is simply ignored in media accounts– no doubt to help advance the cause of these tax-and-spend proposals which most of the mainstream media seem to always endorse wholeheartedly.

    I oppose this bill, because it is simply another wealth redistribution mechanism–promoted by people who are obviously very, very, greedy, and seem to believe in the “taking power” of government to pick the pockets of other people, to keep their own recreational expenses down.

    This ballot initiative is another example of “democracy gone wrong”.

    Reply this comment
  3. Michael Carpenter
    Michael Carpenter 12 August, 2010, 12:34

    People I believe that we are smarter than these lawyers and NGOs CEOs give us credit for. NGOs(MOUs with the state) is the new way for private people with there own agenda have came up with to get laws passed and the public on the hook for paying them to carry out the law.They are using a thing called MOUs Memorandums of understanding a public private partnership the private who could be anyone say, some one everyone thinks has the worlds interest at heart like the NRDC.We will say they want to save the ocean because they have money they can get a law in place by giving money to a third party such as The RLFF a corp. that just takes money has no asset to speak of but does what ever the people who give them money wants them to if they get sued who cares they have nothing to lose and the donor is once removed and can not be implicated in anything.Look at this Tax on us yes tax we will not be able to not pay it. It is being sold as a State Parks thing and our schools will suffer why is it that we have a right to education,but they always say schools will suffer Most of the genreal fund goes to firer fighting by the way.This car fee is in the Master plan Section N for funding of the Marine Life Protection Act in which we did not vote for but know they have added a I to the end of it to make it appear that it was an initiative but the legislators made it law it was a simple six pages law i thought it was pretty simple but it was hijacked and
    something most fisherman supported that was going to cost 1/4 of a million a year is now up to 40 million and climbing.It was tried two time to be implemented but they could not get it Wight so now on it’s third time and being run by the RLFF under a MOU with the state so far it is putting people out of business and employing PHds while families that are practicing sustainable fishing and subsistence right of native Americans are being ignored and all with bad Science.Science from the tropics not the North coast they are cookie cutting our state which is wrong. I will stop there because that is a book to be written.How to pay for MLPA’s the registration fee will pay, part of that $18.00 is going to mlpa and THE OPC the Gov. Agency like we need anouther that Arnold made in 2004 to help manage all this money to pay back the ngo’s for helping the state put the tax payers on the hook for all the employees benefits all in the name of saving the ocean.Except the only thing it does is stop fishing.Which has already been taken care of Ten years ago by the Feds.Our stocks are the best in the world goto albionharbor.org peer review. Vote NO or unleash a monster we will all regret next time you are looking at your fish in the store look where it comes from.By the way the people on the blue ribbio task fource who are running the show most have very interesting backgounds Like Kathean Ryis Byod ceo of Westurn petrolem why is oil protecting our ocean when they have no wording to stop oil drilling or gas off our coast.Please get informed our cost is being sold.

    Reply this comment
  4. boatmark
    boatmark 12 August, 2010, 13:26

    Those who live near and use parks or beaches on a daily basis will be subsidized by those who don’t live near such a facility. The first debate should be what properties should be within the state system. Why, as an example, is Benicia State Park within the system?

    Reply this comment
  5. Kris Hunt
    Kris Hunt 12 August, 2010, 14:28

    If I recall, the state’s study showed that there are a number of parks that are simply not visited by anyone. But we keep them open instead of shutting them down or selling them off. That is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

    Reply this comment
  6. Tylerle13
    Tylerle13 13 August, 2010, 10:08

    Thats not completely true, they just forgot to count the amount of people utilizing the parks to grow large plots of Marijuana. Most of that state parks have lush green gardens growing. I guess we need to subsidize those parks so the price of weed doesnt skyrocket.

    Reply this comment
  7. RTR
    RTR 27 September, 2010, 17:41

    Vote no on state parks proposition 21. You would be opening the door for future tax hikes. I do not see how it will bring in that much more money when they already charge a $10 a day entrance fee. I feel this is just a way of getting a hook in us for down the road to sneak in more tax hikes.

    Reply this comment

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