Proposition 21, also called the “California State Parks Initiative,” will change the way California’s state parks and wildlife conservation efforts are funded.

A “yes” vote on Prop. 21 means that an $18 annual surcharge will be added to the cost of vehicle registrations. The new revenue will help fund state park and wildlife conservation programs.

Day-use fees will be eliminated for vehicles charged the $18 surcharge. If Proposition 21 passes, the new surcharge will be added to all California vehicle registrations starting January 1, 2011.

Voting “no” means state park and wildlife conservation programs will continue to be funded as they are now. Day-use fees will continue to be charged for all vehicles.

Passage of the initiative will bring in an estimated $500 million annually from vehicle license registrations. The new revenue will be used to offset the loss of approximately $50 million in park day-use fees.

Supporters of Prop. 21 claim that the initiative’s passage keeps state parks and beaches open, protects jobs and boosts the state’s economy, protects irreplaceable natural areas and habitats, and creates a fund that politicians cannot touch.

Among those advocating passage of the initiative are the Pacific Region National Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy California, and the California State Park Rangers Association.

The Yes for State Parks website has the most complete information about why voters should vote yes on 21. A wide array of newspapers such as The San Jose Mercury News, Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Daily News, Modern Hiker, and San Diego CityBeat are in favor of the measure, in addition to hundreds of organizations.

California, Eureka, San Gabriel Valley, and Beverly Hills/Hollywood chapters of the NAACP, and the San Fernando Valley Regional Black Chamber of Commerce are among the African American entities in support.

Opponents agree that the state park system needs help. But they say that Prop. 21 is nothing more than a new tax. In fact, the name of the main website for those who oppose the measure is “Stop the Car Tax – No on 21.”

Presently the general fund pays about $150 million into the State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Fund. The voter guide does not say what will happen to that $150 million, if Prop. 21 passes but adversaries believe that those monies will be retracted and used to fund other political endeavors in what amounts to a “cynical shell game.”

Prop. 21 has been called an example of ‘ballot-box budgeting’. If voters approve the measure, it bypasses the need for a two-thirds vote in the state legislature. The legislature should do its job, say opponents, and not foist the task off on the voters.

Leading the fight against passage of 21 are State Board of Equalization member Michelle Steele, and Peter Foy, California Chairman of Americans for Prosperity.

Publications in opposition to Prop. 21 include the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Long Beach Press Telegram, Orange County Register, Santa Clarita Valley Signal, Pasadena Star News, and about 18 other newspapers listed on Americans for Prosperity’s site. California Taxpayers Association, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and about 15 other business leaders and business groups oppose the initiative.

All those involved in the debate on Proposition 21 concur that the state parks system and wildlife conservation programs are in dire need of attention. Where they part company is on whether creating another vehicle registration fee is the right way to fix the problem. That is what the voters will have to decide on Nov. 2.