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Discover Pass revenues still falling short

— State parks officials say Discover Pass revenue is increasing, but not fast enough.

They say that with a general fund gap, it’s hard to keep parks open. But officials are managing by trying to promote sales of the $35 pass and by reducing agency staff.

The pass, a user-fee for vehicle entry into state parks, brought in an average of $13 million a year during its first two years. But during the fiscal year ending June 2013, the pass program brought in $16.8 million – an increase of about 29 percent, state figures show.

Despite the revenue growth, the pass is not bringing in enough money to make up for budget cuts, Washington State Parks spokeswoman Virginia Painter said. And the program is falling far short of the agency’s original revenue projections of $27 million per year.

The pass program was implemented in 2011 after state lawmakers slashed the parks budget.

"It is the thing that helped keep the parks open," Painter said.

If the trend continues, pass revenue in its fourth year should be even stronger. But the parks system has a long way to go to make up for more than 50 percent in budget cuts during the height of the state’s budget crisis as the economy faltered in 2008.

The percentage of State Parks’ budget that was from the state’s general fund dropped from more than 60 percent in 2007 to 30 percent in 2008. For the 2011-13 biennium, it was at 12 percent, state figures show.

That number is now at about 7 percent, figures show.

In his 2014 proposed supplemental budget, Gov. Jay Inslee suggested a 2.3 percent

increase, $2.9 million, to the Parks budget.

But there’s still a revenue gap.

Budget cuts have put maintenance and operations of many parks at risk, Painter said. They have reduced staff and made a lot of positions seasonal instead of year-round.

"It's not sustainable, long term," she said.

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