CA Election 2010 - Proposition 21

The description of Proposition 21 reads: "Establishes $18 annual vehicle license surcharge to help fund state parks and wildlife programs. Grants surcharged vehicles free admission to all state parks."

I'm still partially undecided on this, but I'm leaning towards "No".

I support funding the state parks and keeping them open for us to enjoy. However, I'm not convinced this is the best way of doing that. This proposition imposes an additional vehicle registration fee (the current fees are already pretty high, I think I had to pay over $240 this year for my registration). The new fee would be put into a fund which can only be spent on state parks and wildlife programs.

Of course, the state parks are currently funded from other tax sources. So this dedicated funding would allow the state government to pull the original funding and use it for other things. This part is okay in idea. We have budget problems and this would help offset the deficit. However, it creates an inflexible chunk of the budget. Which would mean that next time the budget needs to shrink you couldn't cut any funding from the parks/wildlife programs. Which, of course, is the goal of people who care about those programs and nothing else. This is a problem, in my opinion, when it means that other programs get cut which are more important than parks/wildlife. When you keep the parks open at the expense of homeless shelters I think your priorities are off base.

An issue I've heard raised is that it spreads the cost out over the entire population including the people who won't ever go to the parks anyway (due to lack of interest, distance, time, etc.). This does seem like a noble argument, but is inherently meaningless. The parks are a public good and subject to the tragedy of the commons. If they don't get funded by the overall population then they have to raise entrance fees. If they try to subsist entirely on entrance fees then only the wealthy will be able to afford to use the parks and the purpose of the parks is defeated. State and national parks will always need to be financed from tax dollars in order to provide them to the public at large. So I don't consider this perceived unfairness to be a valid argument against the fee.

My main issue is that it creates that inflexible distribution of tax dollars. Why not propose an $18 vehicle registration surcharge to simply "help offset the budget deficit"? I believe the reason why that wasn't done is because no one would vote for it since it just looks like a tax increase (which it is as is this wording). Since it's just a tax increase, which is occasionally necessary, I think it should be treated as such. As it is, it's a tax increase that can't be used flexibly.