News Release 12-079
Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
1111 Israel Road S.W., P.O. Box 42650, Olympia, WA 98504-2650, (360) 902-8500
Don Hoch, Director
Sandy Mealing, (360) 902-8559 Sandy.Mealing@parks.wa.gov
Wash. Telecommunications Relay Service: (800) 833-6388
State Parks Commission rejects policy of zero general fund for the state park system in its 2013-15 budget
Aug. 13, 2012 –
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission last Thursday rejected a policy of zero general fund tax dollars to support the state park system.
At its regular meeting in Wenatchee last Thursday, the Commission unanimously adopted a report that was delivered to the state Office of Financial Management today. The “State of State Parks” report is the response to a 2012 legislative proviso directing the Commission to detail its progress toward making the park system self-supporting and any legislative changes that are needed for successful implementation. The final report can be found online at www.parks.wa.gov/Beyond2013.
The concept of self-support is tied to the new access fee program, the Discover Pass, which was adopted by the Legislature in 2011 as a way to generate revenue that would replace general tax dollars no longer available to support parks and recreation. The report states that the park system, which benefits all citizens, should be supported with state funds as well as user fees and other revenue sources the agency is exploring to help sustain itself. The Commission has initially determined it will request approximately $18 million in general fund in its 2013-15 budget request, in part so the state can cover the costs of legislated pass programs State Parks provides to special groups of users who are exempt from the Discover Pass. State Parks also provides stewardship and government services that do not generate revenue and therefore require state support, the Commission said.
“The Commission does not believe that State Parks can meet its mission or operate at an acceptable level without general fund,” said Commission Chair Joe Taller of Olympia. “And we need people to understand that the budget request we’ll be making won’t put us at a level that the Commission wants. It’s not optimum or desirable. But we’ve got to improve the service level we have currently. We can’t sustain services on what we have now.”
In the report, the Commission concludes:
• The Commission believes that 100 percent self-support is not sustainable or desirable if State Parks is to satisfy its mission and meet statutory responsibilities.
• The Commission believes that the very nature of its public purpose calls for a substantial level of broad-based public funding, as part of a “right mix” of financing to help sustain the park system.
• The Commission will ask for approximately $18 million general fund in the 2013-15 biennium, but may adjust that request if actual Discover Pass revenues vary significantly from current projections.
The Discover Pass is a $30 annual ($10 daily) vehicle access pass now required of most daytime visitors and recreation users on lands managed by Washington State Parks, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The Discover Pass is intended to generate revenues no longer available to cover the costs of operating state-managed recreation lands. State Parks receives 84 percent of revenues, and WDFW and DNR each receive 8 percent. For more information about the pass, how to purchase and exemptions from the pass requirement, visit www.DiscoverPass.wa.gov.
The creation of the new fee program and sharp declines in general fund during the past three years have created uncertainty in the State Parks budget. Discover Pass and other fee and donation revenues are provided in the budget as “spending authority,” money that must be earned before it is available to spend, as opposed to actual legislated appropriations of general fund that can be counted upon to plan expenditures. Discover Pass revenue receipts are variable month-to-month, and total revenues from the pass have been approximately 50 percent lower overall than projected. This required drastic reductions to State Parks in the spring of 2012. The agency eliminated a management layer, reduced staffing and services agency-wide and shifted the field operation to seasonal (66 of 189 ranger positions were reduced to five- and eight-month seasonal positions). The approach was taken to keep parks open and help ensure adequate staffing levels for the busy summer months.
The “State of State Parks” report also includes some details about an agency Transformation Strategy currently being created to keep the agency working proactively on operations funding solutions. Efforts in the report include explorations of new revenue sources, greater leveraging of partners, expansion of technology and market considerations. The Commission also proposes getting support to gather the data needed to determine financial need for 2015-17 and beyond.
Stay connected to your state parks by following Washington State Parks at www.facebook.com/WashingtonStateParks, www.twitter.com/WaStatePks_NEWS and www.youtube.com/WashingtonStateParks. Share your favorite state park adventure on the new State Parks’ blog site at www.AdventureAwaits.com.
The Commission manages a diverse system of more than 100 state parks and recreation programs, including long-distance trails, boating safety and winter recreation. The 99-year-old park system will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2013.
Support state parks by purchasing your annual Discover Pass today, and enjoy a whole year of outdoor fun on Washington’s beautiful state-managed recreation lands. For more information, visit www.discoverpass.wa.gov.