The Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee recently voted in favor of raising fees for state parks even higher than what Gov. Scott Walker had originally proposed, with Republican lawmakers overpowering Democrats in the 12-4 vote.
Gov. Walker originally proposed a budget plan for the state which would have put an end to funding public parks with taxpayer dollars, requiring the parks to subsist entirely on individual fees and corporate sponsorships, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette. Walker’s proposal would have raised annual entrance fees for state parks by $3 and camping fees for forest camping sites by $2, to make up for the lack of government funding.
Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee member Sen. Toward Marklein, R-Spring Green, took Walker’s plan one step further with a revised proposal, which was presented to the Committee on May 7.
Marklein proposed that the state should keep the $3 increase for annual park entrance passes, but also increase daily park entrance fees by $1. He also proposed that camping fees be raised by $5 for Wisconsin residents, and $5 to $6 for nonresidents. Additionally, electricity fees at camping sites and annual trail passes would both be raised by $5, to $10 and $25, respectively.
Marklein’s budget proposal would raise an estimated $5.6 million of revenue over a period of two years, whereas Walker’s proposal would only raise $2.6 million.
However, state Democrats are not pleased with the decision, stating that $28 annual park fees for Wisconsin residents ($38 for nonresidents) and $20 camping fees ($25 for nonresidents) would limit affordable family activities.
National surveys estimate that around 67% of campers use public campgrounds the most, but Wisconsin’s state-run parks are even more popular than the national average. According to the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau, an estimated 15.3 million people visit Wisconsin state parks and forests each year.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, openly stated that Walker’s first proposal and Marklein’s revised proposal would directly hurt Wisconsin families, and other Democrat lawmakers have echoed this sentiment.
“Because of your bad decisions and bad decisions by this governor, you are now proposing raising fees on Wisconsin families,” Taylor stated. “That is absolutely the wrong way to go. It’s another slap in the face to the hard-working people of Wisconsin.”