Tax Refunds Could Rescue California State Parks

New idea would turn taxation into salvation for targeted parks

Bob Rossi

It's an intriguing idea.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers (you read that right) want to give taxpayers the ability to use tax refunds as a kind of Pay Pal-style currency to keep state parks off the hit list.

State parks are one of those assets that transcend party politics. Democrats and Republicans alike pay close attention to the fact that parks are popular in their districts.

Actual park visitation varies according to remoteness and accessibility. Russian Gulch in Mendocino County is never going to compete with Malibu or Pismo Beach.

But boosters say that overall, the park system generates $3.4 billion in state taxes and $1.9 billion in local taxes a year, not to mention providing hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Now, faced with the impending closure of 70 parks in a budget-cutting move, a group of lawmakers has cooked up an idea that includes using tax returns as a lifeline.

AB 1589 would set up a five-year experiment allowing a taxpayer to use his or her tax return as a means of buying park passes.

The cost of the pass would qualify as a tax deduction, for taxpayers who itemize.

But here's the catch. That means the state Franchise Tax Board would be turned, for the first time, into a retail merchant.

Tax board staff says the park idea could establish "a precedent for the inclusion of a variety of other items on the tax return."

In other words, why stop there? How about Dodger tickets, highway toll passes, or museum passes?

Turning taxation into a transaction could be opening the door to complicating an already complex tax system, no matter how worthy the cause.

 Kevin Riggs is an Emmy-winning former TV journalist in Sacramento. He is currently Senior Vice President at Randle Communications.

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