Michigan Eyes Voluntary Tax to Help Parks
Lawmakers in the Michigan House and Senate unveiled a bipartisan plan Thursday (March 12) to add a voluntary $10 charge to annual motor vehicle registration fees and dedicate the added revenue from that to maintenance and improvements at state and local parks, boat launches and recreation areas, according to the Detroit News.
Revenue to care for parks and recreation sites falls millions of dollars short of what's needed right now, partly as a result of budget cuts in the last few years, according to the Department of Natural Resources and lawmakers proposing the new funding scheme.
The proposed new fee would operate on an honor system. Citizens not expecting to use the parks or recreation areas could choose not to pay the added $10 when they register their vehicles each year.
Some money for that used to come from the general fund – state government's main, tax-funded checkbook – but no general fund money has gone to state recreational facilities since 2004.
Sen. Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, one key sponsor of the proposal, said the $10 fee would become a stable source of money for these outdoor sites for years to come. The other main sponsor is Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, who will coordinate parallel legislation in the House.
Birkholz said the proposal would reduce state residents' costs for using parks and recreation areas while creating a cash stream to cover badly needed infrastructure improvements.
Birkholz said parks and recreation areas have major needs, including repairs or replacement of leaky sewage facilities. The recent roof collapse at the visitor center of Ludington State Park illustrates the need, she said.
The Department of Natural Resources says it requires about $38 million a year for maintenance and infrastructure improvements but currently is spending only $2 million annually.
If 65% of vehicle owners voluntarily paid the $10, it would raise $47 million for maintenance and improvements in state and local recreation areas, according to Chuck Nelson, chairman of the Citizens Committee for State Parks.
His group first proposed the idea, which is based on a state-park support system that has been successful in Montana.
Nelson said 70% to 75% of Montana residents voluntarily pay the fees for park maintenance.
"Michigan people love their parks," Birkholz said. "We're going to work hard to make this happen."