Environmental groups turn in paperwork for DMV fee to fund California state parks

By Paul Rogers, Mercury News
Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Hoping to break the recent cycle of proposed state parks closures, a coalition of California environmental groups took the first major step Tuesday toward qualifying a measure for next November’s ballot that would roughly double the state parks budget by imposing a new annual fee on vehicle registration.

The text of the proposed ballot measure submitted to the attorney general’s office for a title and summary reveals some new information:

  • The fee would be $18 a year per vehicle, not $15 as previously reported.
  • The fee would apply to nearly all vehicles, including motorcycles and RVs, but not commercial trucks.
  • It would raise roughly $500 million a year, compared to the current annual state park operations budget of $380 million.

The measure would require a simple majority to pass, and would allow any car with California license plates free admission to state parks and beaches, which now cost between $6 and $15 per entry.

Supporters intend to make a final decision by December on whether to begin gathering signatures in the spring, although signs are pointing to go.

“Our state parks were once considered the best in the nation, and now they’re falling apart and threatened with closure because they have no reliable source of funding,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, a parks advocacy group in San Francisco spearheading the idea.

Other environmental groups working on funding and polling issues include the Nature Conservancy and Save the Redwoods League.

After the idea was first floated this fall, taxpayer groups, such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said they would oppose the measure. Also, when the idea was raised in the Legislature, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he would veto it because he considered it a new tax. In 2008, however, Schwarzenegger proposed and approved an $11 increase in vehicle registration fees to fund the California Highway Patrol.

Schwarzenegger drew significant public opposition when he proposed closing 220 of California’s 278 state parks this year. After lawmakers restored funding, he proposed closing 100, then reversed course and required $14.2 million in cuts that were achieved by a number of changes including reduced hours, closed visitor centers and padlocked restrooms at beaches, forests and historic sites.

The ballot proposal would give 85 percent of funding to state parks – and mandate that lawmakers couldn’t use it for other purposes. The other 15 percent would go to the Department of Fish and Game, the state’s Ocean Protection Council and other agencies for wildlife and ocean projects.

originally published at: http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_13703721