Michigan May Tweak Rec Passport Program
Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh envisions all public lands in the state benefiting from a change that could make it more likely for vehicle owners to buy an $11 Recreation Passport, MLive.com reported.
Meeting with MLive reporters in Grand Rapids this week, Creagh called the 2-year-old Recreation Passport program successful in generating more revenue than the old model of selling windshield stickers for state park access. Still, he wants to consider a couple changes during upcoming budget talks:
- Make it so that people renewing their vehicle registration can opt out of the Recreation Passport fee rather than opt in.
- Use additional revenue generated by an opt-out arrangement to support county and local parkland.
“There’s a lot of conversation about should it be an opt out or an opt in,” Creagh said. “As DNR director, I’d certainly like to see it as an opt out, very clearly saying you’re charged for this and if you don’t want it, check the box.
“I don’t think I’ll necessarily get opt out at this time, but I think I can get ‘once you’re in, you’re in,’ and then grow it through experience. One thing I’d like to do, at a minimum, is you’re in, you’re in. Every year you don’t have to remember to check the box.”
Under the Recreation Passport program, Michigan residents may voluntarily pay an annual parks fee when they renew their motor vehicle registration. The passport gives that vehicle unlimited access to state parks and recreation areas for the one year that registration remains valid.
Creagh said the DNR needed 18% of vehicle registrations to opt in on the Recreation Passport fee in order to generate the same revenue as the windshield stickers, and about 27% of registrations now pay the annual fee (which increased from $10 to $11 in January). But he estimates as many as half of motor vehicle registrations would pay the Recreation Passport fee if they had to opt out to avoid it.
In its report last fall, a Gov. Snyder-appointed panel on state parks and outdoor recreation recommended an opt-out model for the Recreation Passport program.
“We still have over $300 million of capital improvements to do. But, as my boss says, no bonds unless you have a revenue source to retire them, and that’s fair,” Creagh said. “(With additional revenue from an opt out) you could float a $100 million bond and fix up state parks.”
And there would be money leftover for county and local parks, he said.
“I’d like to expand it to all public lands, not just state parks,” Creagh said. “It would be a good funding source for that, but that’d have to be after a certain threshold so state parks are held harmless.
“I’d like to have that conversation during our budget hearings this spring.”
State Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, introduced the Recreation Passport legislation as a state House member in 2010. The program was patterned after a similar model in Montana, where people pay the fee unless they opt out.
But in Michigan that “was negotiated to an opt-in because many legislators were concerned that people were going to be tricked into signing up for a passport they may not want if they didn’t read carefully enough,” said Bob DeVries, chief of staff for Meekhof, the Senate majority leader.
Because the Recreation Passport has surpassed revenue targets, “we’re content with the status quo for now” as an opt-in model, DeVries said.