LINCOLN — Those who collect Nebraska park stickers on their windshields might have to come up with another way to display their camp warrior status.
The Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee heard mostly support Thursday for a bill that would do away with stickers in favor of a $7 registration fee on most motor vehicles and trailers.
The proposal would spread out parks funding across a larger number of Nebraskans and would depart from a user fee system that’s been in place for decades.
Parks supporters sounded ready to climb aboard the different funding vehicle, with eight people testifying in support. One person spoke against the proposal.
“I think younger families will use parks more often without having to pay for a permit — senior citizens, too,” said Joanie Stone, representing the state chapter of Family Campers and RVers.
Legislative Bill 362, introduced by Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, would raise nearly $12 million annually for state parks. But for Nebraska residents, it also would do away with the $25 annual and $5 daily park-entry permits, which raised $5.6 million last year. Nonresidents would continue to buy park permits.
The bill specifically exempts semitrailers, buses, taxis and other commercial vehicles from the registration fee.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission budgets about $22 million annually for state park operations.
Additional funds provided by the vehicle registration fees would go toward the $30 million backlog in deferred maintenance projects, said Roger Kuhn, parks administrator with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
A couple of the committee members said they were uneasy with raising vehicle registration fees. Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton said money collected from motorists should go to roads.
“Everybody who drives a car uses the roads,” she said. “Not everybody who drives a car will use the park system.”
That was a view shared by Curtis Smith of the Nebraska Chapter of Associated General Contractors, who testified against the bill.
But John Kingsbury of Ponca, who has been a community leader behind the major redevelopment of Ponca State Park, said all Nebraskans benefit from the tourism dollars the state park system generates. With more than 800,000 annual visits, the park has become a significant economic factor in northeast Nebraska.
Kingsbury argued that $7 is less than the price of a movie ticket.
“The investment and resulting growth at Ponca State Park tells us that our concern about a video game generation, or the lack of physical exercise and childhood obesity, can be overcome if we provide and promote great outdoor activities,” he said.
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