Save Our State Parks Alternative Revenue

A bill to allow logging in West Virginia’s State Parks, Senate Bill 270 and House Bill 4182, has been introduced in the 2018 Legislative Session at the request of Governor Justice. Our state parks face a $50 million maintenance backlog. The Governor suggests that logging revenue would be used to secure a 20-year bond to pay for it. Conservation groups across the state are united in an effort to oppose any commercial logging in West Virginia State Parks.

Alternative ways to raise revenue

We agree with Governor Justice that our state park system could use more funding. However, we disagree that logging the parks is the right way to raise revenue. We are willing to explore and discuss other creative ways to secure funding for our state parks. West Virginians just approved a $1.6 billion road bond; surely we can find $50 million for state parks with a combination of ideas.

Purchase card rebates: The state parks receive 10% of the annual p-card rebates per WV Code 12-3-10d. This code could be amended to increase the state park’s percentage of rebate monies. A raise to 30% of p-card rebates would likely provide an additional $1.2 million to state parks.

WV State Lottery: The WV Lottery already supports state parks; according to the DNR state parks received $8 million from the lottery last year. Current lottery proceeds could be reapportioned specifically for a state parks bond. Additionally, HB 2105 creates a new scratch-off game specifically for the benefit of state parks.

Increase general appropriations: State parks return $13 to the WV economy for every $1 invested by the Legislature. General appropriations are the most effective way to finance parks and reaffirms a public commitment to state parks by all West Virginians. Dedicated funding sources almost always result in reduced general appropriations.

State park pass: This could raise $1.6 million annually as previously proposed by the WV DNR. To make the fee more palatable to West Virginians, the pass could be for only out-of-state visitors. It might include a provision that anyone with a WV Hunting or Fishing License could purchase a discounted pass. Of neighboring states, Virginia charges $66 for an annual park pass and Maryland charges residents $75 and non-residents $100. However, costs associated with enforcement of the pass could cut into revenue.

Motor vehicle registration fee: Montana uses a $6 “opt-out” fee; Michigan uses an $11 “opt-in” fee with 27% public participation. Washington State charges a $30 fee.

State forests: Part of the maintenance backlog results from DNR/state park managed facilities on our DOF managed state forests. Commercial logging is allowed in state forests. Proceeds from timber sales on state forests should be directed to maintaining these DNR facilities, reducing the overall backlog or freeing additional funding for bonding.

Resort/cabin/campground surcharge: State parks have 700,000 overnight guests. Since the maintenance bond is focused on improving facilities, a capital improvements surcharge could be added to fees or reservations at state park lodges, cabins, and campgrounds. Improving campgrounds for RVs could have the most immediate return at the lowest cost.

Rental car surcharge: Because visitors and tourists are the ones most likely to rent vehicles in West Virginia a surcharge could be added to car rentals to support state parks.

Tax return check box: Our state tax return could have a check box that specifically directs a small amount to state parks. This could be written as an additional “donation” or a reapportionment of existing tax liability that would not increase taxpayer burden. This is a similar concept to the public campaign finance option found on federal tax returns.

State Park specialty license plate: The WVDNR already receives funding for wildlife programs from certain specialty license plates. $10 from the initial plate issue and $15 from the renewal goes to DNR. A state parks plate series could be created in a similar fashion.

Round up” for parks: Voluntarily participating businesses could ask patrons to “round up” purchases with the additional change directed to state parks via the State Park Foundation.

General sales tax: Missouri, Arkansas, and Minnesota earmark a portion of general sales tax or raise sales tax to support state parks, typically by one-tenth to three-eighths of a percent.  In Missouri voters reaffirm the increased tax every 10 years.

Sporting goods sales tax: In Texas and Virginia a portion of state sales tax related to the sale of sporting goods is directed to state parks and recreation. These are not additional taxes but an earmark of existing tax revenue based upon sporting goods sales estimates.  In WV, non-hunting sporting goods (RVs, trailers, tents, boats, camp fuel, etc.) would have the most direct connection to state parks.

Timber severance tax: The current timber severance tax of 1.5% is set to expire in 2019. The tax could be retained and used for state parks. As private timber is cut the severance would ensure the continuation of mature forest on state park land, offsetting some of the impacts of growing our wood products industries.

Plastic bag or bottle tax: The New York legislature is considering a 1-cent “Pennies for Parks” program on single use plastic bags. In West Virginia HB 2136 was proposed in 2012 to raise a 5-cent excise tax on plastic bags, not to be passed on to the consumer.

WV Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund: The OHCF is funded by fees from deed recordings and already supports a variety of DNR programs. The DNR’s portion of the fund could amended or likely be used “as is” since DNR is permitted to use the OHCF to pay debts on certain EDA bonds per WV Code 5B-2G-6. The deed revenue of the Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund could be increased to specifically address the new demand.

State-local partnerships: The communities surrounding state parks benefit from having them nearby. Cost sharing agreements between different levels of state and local government could provide increased flexibility for raising revenue for state parks, including special tax districts, tax increment financing, zoning, and development impact fees.

Public-private partnerships: The businesses near state parks benefit also from the additional tourism. Joint advertising, co-sponsored recreational activities, and commercial permits could generate increased traffic and revenue for both state parks and private businesses.

WV State Park Foundation: Increasing the efficacy of the WV State Park Foundation could provide a substantial long-term return and maximize private contributions. An endowment or trust fund provides stability and a place for philanthropic donations.

Merchandise: Hiking guides, maps, birding guides, apps, and the limited edition WV State Parks Monopoly are popular with state park visitors. Premium fees could be charged to benefit parks.

Selected References:
Walls, M. 2013 Paying For State Parks, Evaluating Alternative Approaches for the 21st Century.
Outdoor Industry Association. 2017. State Funding Mechanisms for Outdoor Recreation.

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