Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Washington's "Discover Pass" rescue ride may not be enough

When the Washington State Legislature decreed that their state parks must do more to be self-sustaining, they created a new program called "Discover Pass." In order to access many of Washington's public lands, including the state parks, folks are in many cases being required to pony up more money for access passes. Read that $35 a year, or $11.50 a day. At the time, the lawmakers also provided "bridging" funds to help the park system wean itself over to being totally self-sustaining.

A few problems have shown up with the system, the greatest of which is the economy. Recently Washington's governor called for yet another special legislative session to try and sort out a projected revenue shortfall of nearly one and a half billion dollars. Agencies are being asked to come up with plans to chop their budgets by 10%. With state parks already mandated into being self-sustaining, lawmakers are looking at chopping off some of those bridge funds.

"Discover Pass is not bringing in the revenue so far that we hope it will," says Washington Senator Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. "We still have to do some tweaks. The reality is, we have to raise money from the Discover Pass to keep our parks open. We are not going to get rid of the Discover pass."

To try and make the Discover Pass more accessible, the state now makes it possible for residents to buy the pass when they renew their motor vehicle tabs. That's salt in the wound to some. The Discover Pass is tied directly to a given vehicle. Buy the pass for your pickup truck used when hunting on public lands, you can't move it to your motorhome to go make a visit to a state park. At $35 a pop, some residents are seeing red.

State legislators say that wasn't their intent, and want to fix the problem in the next session. A few weeks ago a group of lawmakers met and signed off a letter to two state land agencies, asking them not to write tickets to folks who "transfer" their pass from one vehicle to another. But news reports indicate that the letter evidently hasn't had the desired effect. One law enforcer for the state's Fish and Wildlife Department told the Spokesman Review newspaper, "We’re not being advised (by superiors) to not enforce the law, let’s put it that way."

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