Opinion

SOUNDOFF: Are we living in paradise lost?

John Q. Adams seems unable to grasp why we islanders living in “paradise” are unhappy paying to use our park. Maybe I can help.

Paradise, John, was trolling for king salmon off West Beach with my dad. This was when our state sales tax paid for the boat ramps we used and this recreation was affordable to a family tight on money. And we knew that the punch cards we paid for would fund fisheries that would insure future runs of kings.

Paradise, John, was hiking nine miles into the rattlesnake with my dad for a week of camping, again affordable to a family with a tight budget. We knew we were lucky to have such a great resource to enjoy, and realized that the trails we hiked on were the by-product of volunteer labor and the money raised from all public timber sold from “our” public forests.

Paradise, John, was Mom and us kids going to Partridge Point for a day of picknicking and hiking the trails and beach, something we did often growing up. Again something a family on a tight budget could afford. OK, maybe we could have afforded five meager bucks for the privilege of using our state’s awesome resources here in paradise, but I know that if we had to do so every time we left the house in pursuit of recreation, we would have eventually done less of it.

I think you and everyone else in favor of the fees are missing the big picture.

For years and years and years the state sales tax was enough to pay for all this and more. We built a huge four-lane interstate that has served us well, and we were content in the assumption that as long as we worked hard and paid our taxes, all would be well. But a curious thing has happened. As the tax base has grown, services have shrunk. First was the boat ramp fee, to help defray costs. Then the park fee, to help defray costs. King fishing off West Beach is a thing of the past, for despite huge sums of money spent on research, little has really been done to bring back the salmon. Our freeways are now woefully inadequate, but despite millions being spent to study the problem, it seems we can’t come up with a solution. Some of our parks have actually been shut down because of lack of funding. This is very curious because, even though the tax base has grown 50 times over since most of the parks were built, most of the parks are the same size. If we could afford them in the 1940s why can’t we afford them now?

What John Q. Adams doesn’t undertand is that if you collect the fee at the park, or at the cash register, it doesn’t matter, it is the same thing. Regardless of what you call it, “user fee” in effect is just a tax increase. The only difference is that it is a way for the state to tax us in a different way while being able to say that they haven’t raised taxes. The problem is that the government has grown and the bulk of our money is now being spent to run the government itself with little or no money left to fund services. Tim Eyman wasn’t trying to cut funding as much as he was trying to say “Hey you guys, we can’t afford any more. You need to cut your operating costs.”

Paradise is a relative word, and I guess if you moved here from California, it is paradise. But if you grew up here, I would have to say that it is fast becoming what those from California left behind.

Omer Lupien — a Whidbey Island native — lives in Oak Harbor.

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