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Prop. 21 Would Create Fund For Calif. State Parks

Taxpayer Groups Say $18 Auto Registration Fee Is Regressive


Providing a dedicated funding source for California's state parks is the goal of Proposition 21. State budget problems have caused legislators to siphon off money intended for the maintenance and repairs at California's 278 parks.

Providing a dedicated funding source for California's state parks is the goal of Proposition 21.


State budget problems have caused legislators to siphon off money intended for the maintenance and repairs at California's 278 parks.

Torrey Pines State Beach Park in San Diego was among parks on a list of closures.

Proposition 21, the State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2010, would raise $350 million or more a year for parks.

The money would come from an $18 fee added to your car registration. Commercial vehicles, trailers and trailer coaches would be exempt from the surcharge.

In exchange for paying the $18 extra fee, all vehicles with California plates would get free day-use admission to all state parks. An annual pass costs $125.

The license fees collected would pay to repair and maintain the parks and cover staffing costs.

"They're not able to clean the restrooms as often," said Rick Vogel, a docent at Torrey Pines State Beach Park. "The biggest issue we've got is staffing. I think we're down several staff positions in the maintenance side which is the reason we can't keep the bathrooms as clean as we'd like. And trail maintenance has suffered some."

Vogel also said several buildings, including the Torrey Pines Lodge, need work.

"As you look at the structure here you can see a number of cracks," said Vogel, pointing to the lodge. "And there are a number of repairs, I mean it's an 86-year-old building so it needs a lot of repairs."

Torrey Pines was on a list of 200 out of 278 state parks to be closed because of California's budget problems.

"In the last year there's actually been 60 parks which have been partially closed and another 90 where there's been deep service reductions," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation.

"This comes on the heels of several decades of underfunding of maintenance and operations," said Goldstein. "This tool, Proposition 21, is really geared to resolving this problem and resolving it permanently and forever."

Goldstein said the California state Legislature has repeatedly cut funding to the parks and beaches. She said Proposition 21 would create a long-term sustainable funding source for state parks.

But many taxpayer groups oppose the ballot proposition.

"It reflects bad policy on a number of levels," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

"First of all it's a tax increase at a time when California is already one of the highest tax states in America," said Coupal. "And other states seem to do much better with less revenue. So we do think there is a issue with respect to how our money is being spent."

Coupal said many Californians don't visit the state parks and shouldn't have to pay for their upkeep.

"It's a highly regressive tax and there's no reason why the non-park user should subsidize the use and enjoyment of those who do," said Coupal. "I'd much prefer that the fees, entrance fees, be set at a reasonable level that responsibly recovers the actual cost of the program."

But Goldstein with the State Parks Foundation said state parks attract more than 80 million visits a year from residents and tourists.

She said setting aside money in a trust fund specifically for California state parks and beaches is the best way to make sure the legislature doesn't redirect money from parks to other purposes.

"What's happened in Sacramento is we've gotten really locked down in this sort of ideological battle over our approach to the state budget," said Goldstein. "What we think Proposition 21 does is solves a critical problem for the state of California in a small way with a small impact on Californians."

Goldstein said a citizens oversight committee will issue an annual report of how the money is spent.

But taxpayer advocate Coupal said there are ways to operate the state parks more efficiently without creating a special fund.

"There's tremendous amount of cost savings that could be achieved in our state parks system like there is in virtually every level of (state) government," said Coupal. "And until we start being more efficient with our tax dollars I think it's very difficult to justify a new revenue source."

Coupal said maintenance contracts could be put out for bid as one way to cut costs.

But Torrey Pines State Beach Park Docent Rick Vogel said Proposition 21 is the best bet to make sure California's parks stay open.

"If we don't get funding, all of the parks, including Torrey, are going to continue to deteriorate and eventually they're not going to be around, they're not going to be available for usage," said Vogel.

California's Legislative Analyst said if passed, Proposition 21 would bring in at least $250 million a year for state parks and wildlife conservation.

The Legislative Analyst also said many parks may get more money from other types of park fees such as tours, camping and park concessions. The reason? The analyst said more Californians would be more likely to visit state parks because they wouldn't have to pay day use fees.

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