Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Fee increases for parks, fishing in new state budget
Some anglers and state park visitors are among those who will pay more to enjoy the outdoors under the 2009-10 state budget signed into law today by Gov. Charlie Crist.
The $66.5 billion budget also includes $50 million for Everglades restoration but lacks money for the Florida Forever land-buying program for the first time since a predecessor program was created in 1990. Environmental groups earlier this month reacted with disappointment to the lack of Florida Forever money.
While defending the various fees in the $66.5 billion budget including a $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes, Crist praised legislative leaders for their efforts to reduce spending to meet declining revenues.
"We'd rather not do it (raise fees), everybody knows that," the governor said. "We'd rather not have the economy we have today, too."
Entrance fees to state parks, which now range from $2 to $5 per carload depending on the park, will increase by $1, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole said. The fee increase was supposed to raise $7.2 million when it was included in the governor's budget proposal in March.
Sole said the department proposed the fee increase to help make visitors cover the cost of park operations. But even with the increase, he said, the entrance fees don't cover the operating costs yet.
"We also want to protect what I call the 'affordability factor,' " he said. "I think that's critical in that the fact they (state parks) are affordable for us to go use."
For Florida residents who previously fished for free from the shoreline or piers along the Gulf or Atlantic coasts under what is known as the "shoreline exemption," they will have to pay $7.50 beginning Aug. 1 or buy a state fishing license for $17, said Lee Schlesinger, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The fee is provided for in SB 1742, which was sent to the governor for his signature on May 15. An exemption is provided in the bill for anglers using a cane pole or similar rod with no retrieval mechanism.
The shoreline exemption is being repealed to avoid a federal registration system that would cost $15 to $20 on top of any licenses that may be required, Schlesinger said.
Revenue from the shoreline exemption will be used for marine fisheries law enforcement, research and management, Schlesinger said. A revenue estimate was not immediately available.
The fee increases will provide opportunities for cost-savings in the future, said Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch in Tallahassee.
"When you add them (fees) all up they are a lot of money for a lot of families -- desirable or not," Calabro said.