As California’s budget deficit grows, Governor has threatened to close most state parks.
Times are tough. Really tough. California, still reeling from the last round of budget cuts, must now figure out how to shave off another deficit, this time totaling $24 billion.
Preliminary plans have been set forth by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and one in particular is striking a chord with the public; the potential closing of many state parks.
That includes most campgrounds, parks, historical sites and other state properties.
It is estimated that the move would save the state tens of millions of dollars per year in operating costs, but some are saying that a closure of this magnitude might not save a dime. In fact, they believe it could actually cost the state money.
“We think the Governor’s proposal to close 80 percent of California’s state parks is short-sighted, particularly when statistics show that these parks generate far more tax revenue than the state spends to maintain them,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.
Sipe cited a Sacramento State University study, which reported that those headed for California state parks spend roughly $4.3 billion per year in “park-related” expenditures.
“That $4.3 billion generates $300 million a year in sales tax revenue, or more than four times the $70 million in savings the Governor hoped to achieve by closing 80 percent of California’s state parks,” Sipe said.
While the study helps to estimate the potential impact of closing such a large number of state parks, it can only scratch the surface in figuring out if the cause it worthy.
According to Lisa Page with Governor Schwarzenegger’s office, these numbers reflect yet-to-be-determined actions. State Parks staff are still analyzing parks across California to determine which generate sufficient revenue, and which do not.
“There are a number of parks that have other sources of revenue, whether it be agreements with local governments, off-road vehicle park fees or state reservoirs,” Page said.
She also told KHTS that the Governor is open to suggestions and all out-of-the-box ideas for how to keep these parks open. Public/private partnerships are being sought, as well as partnerships with local governments.
Two of the most common ideas to help cut the costs of running the parks involve raising park fees and closing down in the winter months.
Sipe says that closing in the off times could be one way to keep the cuts as minimally invasive as possible.
“Can you close mid-week, or in the winter time and still serve maybe 80% of your population with 50% of your budget?” she mused. “Let’s look at this creatively and see how we can get the most bang for our buck out of every dollar that state parks have to spend.”
The reality is that even if the state parks aren’t closed on a mass scale, budget cuts will certainly create some form of impact. But the Governor has vowed to investigate all potential savings.
“We’ve had to put options on the table that a few months ago would have been unthinkable,” Page said. “Unfortunately, to achieve the level of savings that we need to get, without borrowing and without tax increases, there are only so many places in the general fund to look.”
For now, the work has begun on both sides; the state to identify all fat available to cut, and various supporters to start getting creative.