A plan to do away with Nebraska’s state park entry fees by charging more for vehicle registrations ran into opposition in the Unicameral Wednesday.
The proposal by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery would do away with state park entry fees for Nebraskans. Those are currently $25 for an annual pass, or $5 for a daily one.
Avery’s bill would also institute a new charge, of $7 for most passenger vehicle registrations, which he said would bring in about $6.5 million more per year. He said the money is needed to catch up with $30 million in deferred maintenance and another $13 million to make parks handicapped accessible.
Avery acknowledged his proposal is not popular, adding "Frankly, I don’t like increasing fees. I don’t like paying fees. But there is one reality we need to keep in mind: We cannot do everything that needs to be done in this state on the cheap."
Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton led the attack on the proposal, which she said was opposed by chambers of commerce, road builders, car dealers, and others. Dubas said Nebraska already has the seventh highest registration fees in the nation, averaging $306 per vehicle, and shouldn’t add another $7 to that. Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash reinforced that point, declaring that people who move to Nebraska from other states "can’t believe how high the registration is."
Other senators objected to the proposals effect on low income Nebraskans. "If you’re in financial hard times, you can live without going to the park. Most of Nebraska can’t live without at least one motor vehicle," said Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins.
Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft supported the vehicle fee increase. She said just as tax dollars support schools, vehicle fees could support parks. "You learn a lot there, too. You learn something by the sound of a bird singing. You learn something there from the sound of children laughing. You learn something there from rolling hills, from the flowers, from the arboretums, from everything that the state, that we have invested into our parks. And we cannot afford to lose that," Brasch said.
Senators moved on to other bills before reaching a vote on the bill. Avery suggested if it comes up again, he might propose combining registration fees with other sources of funding to help the parks.
Editor's Note: For more on Sen. Avery’s views on parks funding, and a discussion of the "unwritten rules" of the Legislature, watch his discussion with Fred Knapp in this week’s version of Capitol Conversations on this website.