A Tax on the Harried and the Unwary

I received a postcard in the mail the other day that looked like a solicitation for donations from one of those wilderness organizations that pretend to be government sponsored. Normally I throw those things away, but because it was one I hadn’t seen before, I took a closer look and then an even closer look. It wasn’t until I read the entire thing as well as checked the website online that I realized it wasn’t a solicitation. It was worse — a rather sneaky kind of tax on the harried and the unwary as well as the literacy-challenge

Apparently, Colorado has enacted a new program where a Colorado Parks Pass will be charged with one’s vehicle registration. From what I can tell, opting in is the default mode. One can opt out, but that’s a separate step, and entails paying attention to the paperwork that comes with the license plate renewal and marking the appropriate box, which is why I call it a tax on the harried and the unwary. Too many people pay their bills without bothering to study them to see what it is they are paying for, and in this case, they’d be paying for a parks pass they might not want or need

Admittedly, the pass available through the Division of Motor Vehicles is being offered at a greatly reduced fee, which is nice for those who can make use of the pass or for those who don’t mind making the “donation.” For people like me, it’s completely worthless. Most of the parks are too far away, and even if I wanted to travel the requisite distance, I can’t get near many of them because so often the approach is along a gravel road that would rattle my car to pieces. Making the matter more problematic, the pass is not transferrable and is only good for the registered car.

Although the program seems worthwhile — the purported goal is to “Keep Colorado Wild” by supporting the state parks system, aiding in conservation efforts, and increasing accessibility — the way they are going about it strikes me as being sneaky. And it seems as if they know this. The goal is to generate at least $36 million for the program annually, and obviously, simply selling parks passes at the normal rate isn’t getting the job done. At the reduced rate, they will have to sell four times the number of passes to break even, and to reach the $36 million goal they have to sell an untold number of passes to those who would never even have considered buying one in the past, so it does seem as if they are counting on the harried and the unwary to automatically pay for the pass.

Perhaps I’m just being cynical. Maybe the program is one that most Coloradans want. It could be that people will gladly pay for the pass even if they never use it. Still, whatever happened to the billions made from the Colorado Lottery? Since 1983, the Colorado Lottery has paid $3.9 billion to voter-selected beneficiaries to preserve and protect Colorado’s parks and wild places.

Oh, well. As long as I don’t get suckered into their machinations and remember to opt out when it comes time to renew my license plates, that’s what’s important (to me, anyway.) Besides, it seems that if I want to support the parks system, I’d be better off buying a lottery ticket. Or two. It’s more honest since I know what I am going to get — not much of anything. And it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a parks pass I wouldn’t be able to use.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

5 Responses to “A Tax on the Harried and the Unwary”

  1. rheashowalter Says:

    I am thrilled with the new price to get into the state parks. It saves a lot of money. Just opt out.

  2. Judy C Galyon Says:

    I’m with you on that Pat. That is a back door approach and not right.

  3. Estragon Says:

    I agree an opt-out is a bit sneaky, but has to be put in context (compared to what?). Parks are generally funded by some combination of taxes, user fees, park-related concessions or activity revenue, charitable donations, and so on. Compared to (eg.) funding through state income or sales taxes, which are generally coercive and mandatory, an opt-out at least allows some degree of choice. Proponents likely would have preferred a general revenue tax funded plan, but had to settle for a politically possible alternative.

    I’m not at all a fan of funding government activity in sneaky or non-transparent ways, but I do understand how and why it happens. On the plus side, if enough vehicle owners really don’t want the system funded this way, they have a way to express it and get it changed.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You make a good point that we’d pay for it one way or another, and at least this way, if we know about it, we can opt out. I’ll be curious to see what happens the second year, if they’ll make as much as they will the first since. If people who unknowingly opted in will choose to opt out the second year, there could be a drop in revenue. But then, I’m sure the originators of the program thought of that.

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