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House approves ‘opt out’ parks fee

A new fee that could increase funding for state parks is one step closer to reality.

The State House of Representatives approved a bill this week creating an “opt out” $5 fee that will be tacked on to car tags that will go toward funding state parks. The bill heads to the Senate for their consideration.

Like every other state agency, Washington State Parks is dealing with a funding crunch. Parks officials had to come up with a list outlining $23 million worth of cutbacks. That list included mothballing Fort Casey and Fort Ebey state parks, which are located on Central Whidbey Island within Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Virginia Painter, spokesperson for state parks, said officials are waiting to see what kind of final budget the park system will have.

If 50 percent of the car owners choose to pay the fee, then the fee would raise approximately $28 million. However, officials won’t know how much money will be raised until money starts coming in.

“We really don’t know what it will bring in,” Painter said.

Implementing the fee poses another problem for officials. The earliest money could be collected from the fee would be September, which is long after the parks system finishes its budget.

“We’ve been in limbo for a long time,” Painter said. “We’re going to have to be extremely conservative fiscally.”

Parks officials are waiting for the budget to be approved, which is scheduled to happen Sunday.

Painter said the Washington State Parks Commission will have a meeting in May to discuss reductions.

The House passed the bill April 20 56 to 42 generally along party lines. Tenth District Representatives Barbara Bailey and Norma Smith, both Republicans, voted against the bill. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, a Democrat, supports the measure.

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