When the state Legislature reconvenes in January, it will face a number of financial challenges, none more difficult than what to do about the state parks system. In 2009, while lawmakers were slashing budgets at the heart of the recession, state parks were pushed toward a self-funding system.
The experiment achieved moderate success, but a new report from the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission makes it clear that state parks can never survive on user fees alone.
In the last five years, lawmakers have reduced general fund support from $94.5 million in the 2007-2009 biennium to $8.3 million in the current period. It also shifted $11.7 million from a tax on selected manufacturers that was designated for litter control programs.
Lawmakers expected the parks system to make up the $74.5 million difference through user fees. The Discover Pass was a terrific idea, and it has raised about $30 million. That still leaves a huge funding gap.
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Legislative deliberations should focus on creative solutions for long-term sustainability of the parks system, including the feasibility of more public-private partnerships. In the short-term, however, the Legislature must restore some public funding.