Optional fee would fund state parks

With huge cutbacks looming for Washington State Parks, one legislator is looking for new money.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen announced Saturday that she is working on getting a car tab fee approved to benefit state parks, but there’s an unusual twist in her proposal.

She is proposing an “optional” $5 fee that would be tacked on to car tab renewals. Instead of having people opt in to pay the fee, they would have to choose to opt out to avoid paying the fee.

“This is not a fee, it’s a choice,” Haugen said during a Saturday afternoon meeting at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.

Some people attending the meeting questioned the opt-out nature of Haugen’s proposal.

“Isn’t that a bit deceptive though?” questioned Coupeville resident Mike Czarnik.

The tab fee is the second proposal Haugen is pushing to improve funding for state parks. She also proposed a 1 cent per $1,000 assessed property value tax that will also go to state parks.

Parks officials are faced with the possibility of cutting nearly $23 million from its budget, which is approximately 23 percent of its budget. Officials placed Fort Casey and Fort Ebey state parks on a mothball list for possible closure, but no decision has been made yet.

Haugen also said that state parks won’t be purchasing any additional land for parks this year because the state can’t afford to maintain current parks. She added there could be changes to real estate excise taxes that would allow some of that money to go toward park maintenance.

Haugen’s property tax proposal is currently in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. That tax would ultimately need voter approval.

The bill that would include the optional car tab fee is currently on the Senate floor.

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