WA State Discover Passes could soon see changes

Washington State Park Discover Passes may soon become obsolete.

According to a state report done by The William D. Ruckelshaus Center, a neutral resource for collaborative problem solving in Washington State and the Pacific Northwest, Washingtonians could be seeing an added vehicle registration fee in the future.

When a driver renews their license plate tabs, they have the option to add on a $30 per year Discover Pass. This pass can be used for up to two vehicles and gives full access to Washington State Parks.

However, according to the state report, the way that the passes are currently set up can create confusion and complexity for pass purchasers and holders. Right now, there are many different fees and specific registration processes for particular activities, additional vehicles, etc.

The $30 per year fee only gives people two access to the park itself. So, for example, if someone wanted to snowmobile in a state park, they would have to separately register that vehicle and pay a fuel tax on top of it. According to the report, between 2015 and 2017, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission received $2.5 million just from Motorized recreation fees.

However, discover passes and added fees don't seem to be cutting it for the multiple state agencies that run our parks.

The operating costs of these agencies are high. From 2015-2017, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission required an operating budget of $174 million, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, a budget of $415.6 million, and the Washington Department of Natural Resources, a budget of $451 million.

Discover passes supplemented these three agencies' budgets by only bringing in a collective $21.8 million.

Currently, only 20 percent of funding for Washington State Parks comes from the state's general fund. Previous to the 2011 creation of the Discover Pass, the state's general fund provided about 80 percent for park maintenance and programs.

The Ruckelshaus Center report has a proposal for how to help, if not completely subsidize state parks and agencies while giving all drivers in the state access to recreation opportunities.

The recommendation is full access to state parks and state public lands for all, charging a mandatory $7 to $15 each year as part of every vehicle's license fee, removing the opt-out option that allows vehicle owners to skip the Discover Pass fee.

While "pass-free" is the report's preferred recommendation, the report doesn't prescribe a specific funding source, and offered alternatives that would instead make some changes to the Discover Pass program, including offering a cheaper pass good for one vehicle only.

Although there is much more to this discussion and proposal, the question remains: Should Washingtonians have to pay for something if we do not use it?

The full state report can be found here.