Posted with permission from Sarah L. Hamby
Bigelow Hollow State Park in Union (Posted with permission from Sarah L. Hamby)

Lawmakers on the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee unanimously endorsed getting rid of the sales tax on parking fees at state parks.

The hastily adopted provision that became part of last year’s state budget was widely panned and caused confusion almost immediately last summer.

On Thursday, the committee voted to send a revised verision H.B. 5627 to the House for a vote.

The committee amended the bill so that if it passes it will take effect immediately upon passage and will “be in place by Memorial Day weekend,” Rep. Jeffrey J. Berger, D-Waterbury, said.

As originally written, the bill wouldn’t have taken effect until the start of the new fiscal year, July 1.
Passed in the last legislative session, the 6.35 percent sales tax was added to parking fees at 25 of Connecticut’s 109 state parks.

Critics of the sales tax on parking fees said the approximate $200,000 it raised wasn’t worth it.

Residents attending shoreline state parks on weekends pay $13.83 to park; $9.57 on weekdays. Nonresidents pay $23.40 on weekends; $15.95 on weekdays.

When the tax was implemented last year, state officials encouraged park goers to have exact change if possible at the ticket booths, and to be patient as the staff worked to educate visitors about the added sales tax.

Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, R-Madison, described the law as a “nuisance and a money grab,” and she’s hoping it will soon be history.

Kokoruda, whose district includes the popular Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, added: “We all know that we are in tough, financial times at the state level. But this law created more headaches than it was worth.”

Kokoruda said the back-up in vehicle traffic caused by state park workers forced to make exact change for each and every car entering during the busy summer season last year is a memory many in Madison don’t want to see repeated.

At a public hearing earlier this month, the only testimony heard was by those who asked that the law be scrapped.

“This tax, which became effective shortly after it was adopted, created a lot of confusion and headaches for residents and municipal officials in many small towns,” Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST), said.

COST represents 115 small towns with populations less than 30,000 throughout Connecticut.

“Towns had to scramble to determine the best way to collect the tax without imposing a hardship on residents and visitors,” said Gara. “Collecting the sales tax also imposed an administrative burden on small towns that may not have to collect the sales tax for any other municipal services they provide.”

The Connecticut Recreation and Parks Association (CRPA) also asked that the tax be killed at the public hearing.

“The requirement of collecting a tax on seasonal parking lot fees was passed during the June 30, 2015 special session and was extremely difficult for many of our member departments to implement on such short notice and during their busiest season,” said Paul Roche, chairman of CRPA.

“Departments are hard pressed to find funding to comply with this new mandate. There is a cost associated with collecting and tracking the tax and then paying the Department of Revenue Services,” continued Roche.

“Municipal recreation departments are already stretched thin and face an uphill battle when trying to find funding to maintain programs, parks, fields, and facilities. With the state reduction in municipal funding looming it is more paramount than ever that municipal departments are not saddled with additional unfunded mandates,” Roche said.

The current state parks budget is about $18 million.

Enfi / shutterstock
Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison (Enfi / shutterstock)