By Assemblyman Randy Voepel
Photo: Ocotillo Wells off-road vehicle recreation area
February 28, 2017 (San Diego’s East County) -- As a representative of rural areas San Diego and Riverside counties, I’m proud that my district includes wide swaths of land that are perfect for off-road recreation. There are tens of thousands of individuals and families throughout my district and our state who enjoy exploring our state’s natural environment through off-roading.
Access to the public lands is part of what makes California such a wonderful state, especially if you’re passionate about recreation and the outdoors. In fact, for many disabled persons the only way that they can enjoy the great outdoors is by operating an off-highway vehicle on OHV trails.
Unfortunately, there are many areas in the state where these opportunities are shrinking. For example, the Cleveland National Forest recently announced it was permanently closing and obliterating 100 miles of off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails.
These days, it seems that off-roaders are dedicating more time to fighting to protect access to land then they are off-roading.
That’s why I’m introducing legislation that will ensure our off-road lands are healthier and more accessible. AB 382 will restore OHV funding that was raided several years ago by the State Legislature and diverted to pay for other state programs.
Part of this problem originates to a few years ago, when the state legislature voted to divert significant funding away from off-road maintenance into the general fund.
The Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund was initially created in 1971. The original bill created a program to register off-highway vehicles that were not otherwise licensed for use upon highways. The proceeds derived from this registration program were used to create the OHV Trust Fund.
Over time, the funding source for the OHV Fund expanded to include taxes on fuels that are consumed by OHVs while operating on public lands within the state, and later included taxes upon motor vehicle fuels that are consumed by highway licensed vehicles when they are operated off of the public highways.
The OHV Trust Fund provides grants to local, state, federal, and some private non-profit organizations “to support the planning, acquisition, development, maintenance, administration, operation, enforcement, restoration, and conservation of trails, trailheads, areas, and other facilities associated with the use of off-highway motor vehicles, and programs involving off-highway motor vehicle safety or education.”
During the challenging budget years earlier this decade, the legislature used a budgeting scheme to divert $10 million from the OHV Trust Fund and instead transferred it to bail out the General Fund.
As a result, the OHV program is unable to fully fund their program and many rural local government OHV grants are only getting funded at a fraction of the needs to provide law enforcement, safety, and environmental restoration on lands within their jurisdictions.
That’s why I am introducing AB 382, which would end this diversion of funds and ensure the fees paid by off-roaders are put back into off-road maintenance, where they belong.
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