Prop 21: Raise vehicle fees for state parks

LOS ANGELES Without a doubt they are magnificent: California's state parks are some of the most beautiful areas in the world. Maintaining them comes at a cost.

"They have been chronically underfunded, and they're in deep, deep jeopardy of being lost, literally," said Alfredo Gonzalez, associate director of the Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy is one of several groups in favor of Proposition 21.

Gonzalez says the parks have a $1.3 billion backlog in deferred maintenance because the legislature keeps cutting the budget.

Prop. 21 would add $18 to your vehicle registration every year, dedicated only to parks. In exchange those cars would get free access to state parks and beaches.

"We're not seeing leadership coming from Sacramento to address many, many issues, not just parks issues," said Gonzalez. "But we the people of the state of California, and organizations like the Nature Conservancy and other partners, have come together to address that need."

Some worry this could set a precedent where any interest group would try to pass a proposition to skip the legislature.

"No question we all love of our parks. What makes California a special place is the parks that we have," said Peter Foy, chairman of Americans for Prosperity in California. "But we're asking the legislature to do their job too, which is to balance the budget, move money around, and let's don't restrict their ability to do that by saying, 'This money's tied up, you can't ever touch it.'"

It's called a fee, so you don't need a two-thirds majority to get it passed like a tax. But opponents say it's really a tax, since everyone would pay for it, but not everyone would go to a state park.

It would raise about $500 million a year.

Proponents of Prop. 21 say $18 is a small price to pay, but opponents say no matter what you call it, whether a tax or a fee, it's still money out of people's pockets during tough economic times.

"That's an awful lot of money," said Foy. "And you're taking it out of every single person who drives a car. It hits the poor the hardest, because I'm required to pay this just to register my car."

Election Day is November 2.

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