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State Parks faces new round of budget cuts

Situated on the west side of San Juan Island, the fate of Lime Kiln State Park is uncertain, as are those of the state
Situated on the west side of San Juan Island, the fate of Lime Kiln State Park is uncertain, as are those of the state's more than 100 parks and recreation areas, as the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission braces for a new round of possible budget cuts.
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It’s bad enough that some residents can no longer afford to play at Lime Kiln Point State Park due to the $30 annual or $10 day pass for parking.

Now, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, says it’s possible the park itself could be in jeopardy.

Recent news from the state capital in Olympia announced state revenue will fall another $1.41 billion short of earlier projections, following a stern $4.6 billion reduction in the 2011-2013 budget that took effect July 1. Gov. Christine Gregoire has called a special session, requesting additional 5 and 10 percent cuts to state agencies.

“Of the $35 billion [previous state] budget, all but $10 billion is restricted,” Ranker said. “Only $10 billion is available for cuts … the only areas we can cut are the areas that matter most to our communities … and that becomes very difficult.”

State parks are expected to become completely self-sustaining, with $17.3 million in “bridge funding” allocated in the last version of the budget. In 2007-2009 state parks’ was allocated a general fund of $98.5 million; in 2009-2011, just $43 million — and by July 2013 that amount is slated to drop to zero.

In 2007-2009, state parks raised $36.9 million through fees and donations; in 2011-13, with the Discover Pass in place, the amount parks are expected to generate in order to meet state parks’ $133.4 million overall budget is $116.1 million.

With recent orders from Gov. Gregoire, it’s likely that some of the current $17.3 million bridge funding will vanish, too. What that means for state parks is still unclear.

Ranker said park closures are not a next step, but still a possibility. He will serve as the lead on the senate’s Natural Resource budget, evaluating agencies including state parks, the departments of ecology, natural resources, fish and wildlife and agriculture.

While Ranker said he would hate to reduce the parks’ bridge funding, “I don’t see how that’s possible — everybody is going to be cut."

Staff hours are likely to be reduced before any parks are closed. Ranker is working on getting a number for a viable, if pared-down, state Parks budget.

“Discover Pass is not bringing in the revenue so far that we hope it will,” he said. “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.”

In its first two months of existence, July and August, the pass raised $5.2 million.

Washington State Parks Public Affairs Director Virginia Painter said legislative projections anticipated $64 million in revenue for the biennium. Washington State Parks receives 84 percent of the pass revenue, with the remainder supporting the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Department of Natural Resources.

Ranker called Lime Kiln and Moran State Park on Orcas, “serious economic drivers for our community” that support countless jobs by drawing visitors nationwide to spend money at county establishments — some continuing a step further to purchase property and pay local workers to build their homes.

“We are going to make additional cuts, and we are going to make drastic cuts,” he said. “But I will not support another all-cuts budget.”

Ranker mentioned closing “tax loopholes” as a potential way to raise revenue in the long-term and possibly reduce the amount of cuts required, saying keeping the parks open is a high priority.

 

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