Neb. Senator Seeks Plate Fees to Fund Parks
State Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln wants to change the way Nebraskans pay to visit the state's parks and recreation areas.
Instead of requiring people to purchase annual or daily permits for their vehicles, Avery is proposing in a bill (LB362) introduced Friday (Jan. 18) to add a fee on most car registrations and allow any vehicle with Nebraska license plates to enter a state park or recreation area without a permit, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
In 2011, lawmakers raised annual permit fees to $25 from $20 and daily passes to $5 from $4.
The only opposition came from a few senators who said they were concerned that raising the fees might strain low-income people but generally supported the plan as a way to raise money sorely needed to help maintain state parks.
"Since its inception in 1978, citizens have expressed interest in eliminating mandatory park fee and finding alternative funding," Avery said.
His measure would maintain yearly and daily park permit fees for nonresident passenger vehicles.
In recent years, the Game and Parks Commission has had to reduce maintenance, mowing and trash removal at some parks and recreation areas because of budget cuts and cost increases.
Permit revenue provides most of the funding for the state park system, which consists of eight parks, 11 historic parks such as Arbor Lodge in Nebraska City, 64 recreation areas and two recreational trails that see a total of more than 9 million visitors a year.
Of the 36 states that use a permit system to help fund their parks, Washington charges the most — $100 for an annual permit. Nebraska, Kansas, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Minnesota charge the least — $25.
In 2012, Nebraska Game and Parks sold 242,000 daily permits, 140,000 annual permits and 66,000 duplicate annual permits for a total of $5.5 million. Charging about $3.50 per registration would raise about the same amount of money.
Tourism is the No. 3 industry in Nebraska, generating $3.7 billion a year and supporting 44,000 jobs. State parks and recreation areas account for 17 of the 25 top-visited attractions in Nebraska.
Gov. Dave Heineman has asked lawmakers for $1.7 million to upgrade camping services at two Nebraska state parks. Heineman said his budget request would boost tourism at Mahoney State Park, in eastern Nebraska and the Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area in the western part of the state.