Michigan Eyes License Fee for State Parks
Five years ago, state park officials in Montana found themselves where Michigan is today: Losing general fund support and taking in inadequate user fees to sustain the state’s park system.
They came up with a novel idea: Do away with windshield stickers and instead charge every motorist $4 for the privilege to visit Montana’s 53 parks. By all accounts, it’s an unqualified success, according to The Detroit News.
“This is a superior system,” said Chas Van Genderen, acting director of Montana state parks.
Motorists can opt out of paying the charge on their vehicle registration, but only 12% do. Park attendance swelled by 700,000 visitors a year and the budget increased from $450,000 to $2 million in the first year and reached $2.6 million last year.
Some in Michigan are looking to copy that system. Legislation has been introduced to charge a $10 vehicle registration fee to replace the $24 annual park fee sticker. The Department of Natural Resources says it needs an additional $38 million a year to maintain parks and infrastructure. Going to the registration fee could generate $47 million annually.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm has not taken a position on the proposal and “has concerns whether a vehicle registration fee for parks is appropriate,” said Liz Boyd, her spokeswoman.
The plan has won the support of the Michigan Recreation and Park Association.
“It’s a sustainable source of funding for state parks and campgrounds. If you try to raise admission fees to make it a total fee system, you run the risk of pricing people out of the market,” said Dennis Schornack, executive director of the association.
His group also favors a provision in the legislation that would give 10% of the registration fee revenue to local parks for development and renovation. There are 5,300 local parks across Michigan.
Opponents Raise Issues
But the plan is opposed by the Michigan Municipal League and the County Road Association of Michigan, who say there is a constitutional guarantee that registration fee money be devoted exclusively to transportation programs.
“This would put the burden on the consumer to opt out of paying the fee and in our minds this makes it a tax,” said David Worthams, lobbyist with the Michigan Municipal League.
The question of constitutionality was forwarded to Attorney General Mike Cox on April 2. He has not issued a ruling.
Bill Sheffer, who heads the Michigan Association of Recreational Vehicles and Campgrounds, said he’s hearing from some of his private campground owners who oppose the vehicle registration fee because it’s tantamount to a subsidy for the state campgrounds.
The Michigan Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (Michigan ARVC) also opposes the bill for the same reason cited by Sheffer. The law would be detrimental to private campgrounds, Wayne Purchase, executive director of Michigan ARVC, told Woodall’s Campground Management.