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District 27 Assemblyman Bill Monning advocates for a $15 vehicle registration fee to save the state parks. "Although deep cuts are necessary to balance the budget, how we make those cuts and how we advance alternatives will reflect our values as a state," he writes.

By Assemblymember Bill Monning

I DID NOT run for state office to cut education and eliminate social safety net and health care programs or to close our state park system. Unfortunately, I entered government at a time when the world is suffering the ravages of an economic crisis that has afflicted California with unprecedented budget deficits.

Although deep cuts are necessary to balance the budget, how we make those cuts and how we advance alternatives will reflect our values as a state. While I have stated that I will not vote to eliminate programs that may result in the loss of human life, I believe there is an alternative budget solution that will preserve essential programs and maintain the California State Parks system.

I strongly disagree with the governor's proposal to close 220 California state parks, because their safe operation is essential to sustaining local economies and to the very preservation of life. California's state parks are economic engines that generate over $4.2 billion in jobs and revenues to local communities. Park staff also provide life-saving interventions and last year engaged in 133 aquatic rescues and 47 major medical incidents in Santa Cruz County alone. Elimination of these services will most certainly result in the loss of human life.

Additionally, CalFire officials report that the risk of wildfire will skyrocket if our parks are left unattended. Adjacent properties and neighborhoods would also be placed in greater jeopardy.

Many Central Coast residents agree with me. To date my office has received over 3,600 messages imploring me, my colleagues and the governor to "save the state parks." Because of this groundswell of support, the Conference Committee is recommending keeping the state parks open with a $15-per-vehicle registration fee, an idea first hatched by former Assemblymember John Laird. This proposed fee, which would generate $420 million dollars, would pay for all the expenses associated with operating the parks statewide and permit any vehicle with a valid California license plate to enter a state park.

A similar program in Montana quadrupled income to its parks the year it was implemented and also resulted in a large jump in park visits from state residents. This option represents a reasonable alternative to the closure of parks, and I encourage those who would like to keep the state parks open to contact the governor to let him know they support this targeted fee increase.

The Budget Conference Committee has presented sound alternate solutions that will minimize human suffering, maximize protection of federal matching funds and preserve essential services including the state parks system. We must act quickly and together to convey a strong and united voice for budget fairness. There are no easy solutions to resolving the deficit, but I am committed to continuing the dialogue to find solutions that will protect programs that are essential to the vitality and future of our region and our state.

Assemblymember Bill Monning represents the 27th Assembly District. You can reach him through his website:

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