If the measure is approved by voters, the state wouldn't have to fund the park system; parks can instead count on $500 million in dedicated DMV fees every year.
"The initiative would provide a stable source of funding, take the park system out of the budget battles every year, and give us some certainty that parks are going to be maintained," said Jim Metropulos, Sierra Club legislative representative and senior advocate.
Years of budget cuts have caused a backlog of more than a billion dollars in maintenance projects.
At the California State Railroad Museum, for instance, a roof leaking every time it rains is just one problem.
"You have to cut back on staffing. You have to cut back on projects, basic maintenance and repair issues," said Kathy Daigle, interim executive director, Calif. State Railroad Museum. "I know that throughout this district, many of our parks are closed on Mondays."
In these tough economic times, another fee increase might be a hard sell in November.
Car owners are already paying double in vehicle license fees until next summer to help ease the budget deficit, and there's talk at the Capitol to extend it. The $18 surcharge is on top of that.
"A lot of people love going to state parks, but should everybody who has a car have to pay for those people who use the parks? I don't think so," said Seth Unger, spokesman for the state Assembly Republican Caucus.
In a sign of what the parks initiative might face, some people are split down the middle.
"I'd rather see a pay-as-you-go type of charge where people who like to visit the park pay for it," said Fremont resident David Metzger.
"To face losing parks, I'd probably be willing to pitch in a little bit extra," said Michelle Voelkert, a resident of Roseville.
The state has been funding parks an average of $140 million a year over the last few years. At that rate, partial closures and service reductions will likely continue.