The Dec, 27 Herald article, “User fees could change,” correctly points out that in the past State Parks got 80 percent of its budget from the state general fund, but now it only gets about 20 percent. The article does not explain how this happened, so this letter will clarify that.
The root cause of this defunding was Initiative 695, which cut the vehicle excise tax. I-695 was created by Tim Eyman and passed by voters in 1999. (Note that I-695 was declared illegal by the courts, but the Legislature subsequently unwisely passed the essential intent of the initiative.) So now we have this convoluted system of passes and fees to fund the parks, which is still inadequate to maintain and improve parks, as is obvious if one visits any state park in Oregon.
It’s ironic that one of the solutions proposed is to add a flat vehicle-tab fee. This is essentially a regressive tax that would not replace the previous funding from the old excise tax, which was the only somewhat-progressive tax in the state.
State parks is not the only underfunded state function resulting from I-695. Others include the state ferry system, law enforcement and transportation. Most other state functions like education and health care were indirectly impacted because funds had to be reallocated to the functions that previously received excise-tax funding.
Of course everyone is against taxes, and Eyman and his supporters play on this gut reaction to reduce funding for essential services. We now must live with the consequences of this irresponsible initiative. I’m not optimistic about this, but I hope that in the future voters will consider the consequences of willy-nilly cutting taxes before supporting future efforts to do so.