Friday, February 18, 2011

Bill threatens state park and fishing access funding

Posted By on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 11:01 AM

A bill moving through the Montana Legislature could result in severe underfunding of state parks and fishing access sites.

Senate Bill 13, sponsored by Rep. John Brenden, R-Scobey, proposes that a person who registers a vehicle may elect to pay $25, rather than elect not to pay $4, for state parks and fishing sites. On Tuesday the Senate Finance and Claims Committee passed the bill by a vote of 11-7, and it now heads to the Senate floor.

During the hearing before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Carol Williams, D-Missoula, told Brenden that his bill "may be the most creative amendment I’ve ever seen"—a way to get "nobody to put money into this account."

"If you believe, as I do, that $4 is a bargain for us to go see our state parks, then why would you allow people to opt out of that?" Williams asked. "Why would some people get to be freeloading off the state parks while other people who sign the opt-in pay for them? Why wouldn’t you just have it be the way it is, where everybody pays the $4 and it’s fair?"

Brenden responded by saying, in part, that his bill avoids "people inadvertently paying for something they don’t use or don’t want to use."

Former Montana legislator Mike Jopek, of Whitefish, is fired up about SB 13. He sent the Indy this letter Friday morning:

There are few places like them in Western Montana and the Senate is poised to shut some of them down: Les Mason State Park, Whitefish State Park, Finley Point, Wayfarers, Yellow Bay, Wild Horse Island, West Shore, Big Arm, Woods Bay, Blanchard Lake and Beaver Lake. No doubt you have fished, camped, picnicked, or swam at many of these great places.

These places are a true treasure, a part of our outdoor way of life.

Senate Bill 13, sponsored by Rep. John Brenden, R-Scobey, and cosponsored by Sen. Jon Sonju, R-Kalispell, passed out of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee. It heads to the Senate floor in the coming days.

The premise of the bill is simple: defund state parks and fishing accesses. But state parks and fishing access is fee-based, they do not use general fund dollars. It costs a meager $4 during car registration and Montanans gain access to all these great local parks and fishing access sites. That’s a great deal.

SB 13 intends to cut nearly $5 million from Fish, Wildlife and Parks. This represents a one-third cut in parks operations alone. But it is the $4 fee that keep these places open and maintained. It is not general fund tax dollars, the savings won’t go to essential services like education. SB 13 will simply shut down some of our great local parks and fishing access sites.

Where would the Flathead be today economically, without Teddy Roosevelt’s vision for places like Glacier Park? And will the Flathead delegation have the vision to keep our state parks and fishing access sites open? I truly hope so.

Let our local delegation know to leave our state parks and fishing access sites alone and focus on what’s important: a jobs plan that helps locals, lowering homeowner property taxes and passing a balanced budget.

-Mike Jopek

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