PHOENIX — A task force appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer recommends adding $14 or $15 to annual vehicle registrations to help sustain Arizona State Parks.
The recommendation from the Task Force on Sustainable State Parks Funding includes the ability for vehicle owners to opt out of the fee. However, all drivers with Arizona license plates would receive free admission to state parks.
The proposed fee echoes a recommendation in a report last month by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
Paul Senseman, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said the recommendation is worthy of public discussion.
“There have been cuts for many years, and the parks are in critical need of funding,” he said.
With the state addressing a budget crisis, Arizona State Parks has seen its operating budget cut to $19 million in the fiscal year that began in July from $26 million the previous year.
Entrance fees, which helped fund capital improvements, are now used to cover operating costs.
The task force’s report, dated Oct. 30, said the vehicle fee would free Arizona State Parks from a “roller coaster system of financial support.”
The task force also recommends that legislators return to 2008 funding levels to prevent further cutbacks and deterioration of services.
“The state parks system is in imminent danger of complete collapse as a result of financial starvation during most of this decade,” the report said.
Arizona’s 31 state parks have a $226 million annual economic impact, making a sustainable funding system essential, the report said.
“Further cutbacks would devastate the state parks system,” said Jay Ziemann, assistant director of Arizona State Parks. “We’re just trying to keep the system afloat.”
If legislators enact the surcharge and half of Arizona drivers opt out, the task force estimates $40 million would be generated.
That’s enough to run the system and make critical improvements such as repairing walls at Jerome State Historic Park’s Douglas Mansion and bringing condemned pipes up to code, the report said. But it won’t leave any extra money for the system to grow, the report said.