Hikers Face Tough Legislative Session
Issues that WTA will grapple with during the 2011 Legislative Session: users fees for DNR and Fish and Wildlife Lands, funding for State Parks, agency consolidation.
By now, you've surely heard rumblings of the tough Washington state legislative session just ahead. Lawmakers face a budget deficit this time of about $4.6 billion, and the proposed cuts are deeper than ever before, and painful to ponder.
When legislators convene on Monday, January 10, they'll have a budget from the Governor before them that makes substantial cuts to education, health and human services, law enforcement, state parks... the list goes on and on. To be honest, the cuts are so numerous, they're a bit hard to keep track of if you're not living and breathing this stuff. I know hikers are eager to know what the big impacts on hikers are.
Here's a quick rundown of the issues WTA will grapple with as the session commences:
Explore Washington Pass: This new user fee system on DNR and Fish and Wildlife lands would require each visitor to carry a $10/person/day permit, or a $40 annual pass. Many of you have weighed in on this proposal on previous WTA blog and Facebook posts (click here for a refresher). We have extremely strong concerns with this fee program, especially when it's contrasted with the Northwest Forest Pass structure ($5/car, $30 annually for access to National Forest trailheads). We think that it will be expensive to enforce a per person pass, and those costs will eat into program revenue. We also fear that hikers will stop using DNR lands en masses, migrating instead to nearby National Forest trails. Of course, we empathize with DNR; they do not have enough money to keep recreation sites open. But it is not reasonable to ask DNR trail users to pay a fee that is so dramatically different from any other agency-imposed fee. That's why we're working with other recreation groups on a proposal that will bring in revenue, but not be an onerous burden for hikers.
State Parks: The agency has been asked by the Governor to draft a budget that does not rely on general fund money--the unrestricted tax revenues that pay for essential state services--but rather is patched together by user fees and reductions in services. Faced with the very real prospect of closing many parks, the agency is developing a revenue package that includes proposals to increase the motor vehicle tab fee instituted last session. We'll be working with State Parks to support sensible and fair revenue sources to keep these important facilities open.
Agency Consolidation: Governor Gregoire constructed her budget with the assumption that the Department of Fish and Wildlife and State Parks would merge with DNR's Heritage and law enforcement programs. The Governor assumes that the state will save $2.5 million and 13.5 full time employees this budget cycle by making these changes. We think this proposal is a very large unknown. No one is sure how it will turn out, or if the legislature will even accept it. We'll be watching this closely as the session unfolds, and we're very interested in what you think on this matter.
Wondering how you can help? Great, because we need you! The best way you can help this session is by attending Hiker Lobby Day on February 9. If you can't attend Lobby Day, please take a moment to contact your legislators when we send an alert through the Trail Action Network.