LAO 2004-05 Budget Analysis: General Government

Analysis of the 2004-05 Budget Bill

Legislative Analyst's Office
February 2004

California Science Center (1100)

The California Science Center (CSC) is an educational, scientific, and technological center administered by a nine-member board of directors appointed by the Governor. It is located in Exposition Park, a 160-acre parcel just south of the central part of Los Angeles, which is owned by the state. The CSC's budget includes the costs of operating Exposition Park, the California African American Museum, and the Science Center museum. The budget proposes expenditures of $20.1 million for 171 positions in 2004-05 for the department, including $14.2 million from the General Fund, $3.2 million from the Exposition Park Improvement Fund, and $2.6 million in reimbursements. The proposed General Fund expenditures are $1.4 million, or 11 percent, above estimated current-year expenditures, due primarily to the proposed opening of a new elementary school and Center for Learning.

Phase Out State Funding for Operational Costs

The budget proposes the continuation of $8.1 million General Fund for the operation of the Science Center museum. We recommend reducing the request as the museum could be funded by private donations, admission fees, and other nonstate revenues. (Reduce Item 1100-001-0001 by $5 million.)

Background. The Science Center, which was formerly known as the California Museum of Science and Industry, includes an IMAX movie theatre and exhibits on space, the environment, and the human body. The budget proposes $8.1 million General Fund for operational costs of the Science Center. Also, the budget proposes $2.7 million General Fund for payment of lease revenue bonds for the facility. The Science Center is the only museum to receive General Fund dollars of this magnitude on an ongoing basis.

Revenues Not Used to Offset State Costs. In addition to state funds, the Science Center receives private donations collected by the California Science Center Foundation. The foundation is a private organization whose primary purpose is to support the Science Center through fund raising for science exhibits and educational programs. The foundation also raises funds through the collection of fees for the use of the Science Center's resources. Such fund raising efforts include the rental of museum space (for meetings or parties), charging admission for the IMAX theatre, and a contract with Princess Cruises to provide science activities for cruise guests. The department estimates that these revenues will total $21 million in 2004-05.

According to the Science Center, an agreement between the CSC and the foundation specifies that the net revenue generated from exhibits, educational services, and rental of facilities benefits the exhibit and educational programs of the Science Center. As such, the Science Center does not use these revenues to offset the operational costs currently funded by the state. We are not aware of any restrictions on the Science Center working with the foundation to renegotiate its agreement and expand the use of the funds.

Admission Fee Could Offset Costs. Over 1.3 million people (including 300,000 students) visit the Science Center each year. Currently, there is no charge for admission. An admission fee for museums like the Science Center is common. For instance, the Exploratorium in San Francisco charges admission of $12 for adults and $8 for youths. The San Francisco Academy of Sciences charges admission of $8 for adults and $5 for youths. For the Science Center, even a fee of a lesser amount (with students admitted free) would provide several millions of dollars in funds for the operation of the facility.

Recommend Phasing Out of General Fund. Given the General Fund situation, we believe it is appropriate to identify nonstate funding sources for the operational costs of the Science Center. Based on our review, we believe that the charging of an admission fee, using private donations, and/or the use of revenues generated from the use of the state-owned facilities are appropriate funding sources.

The elimination of General Fund support for operation could be phased in over two years. Accordingly, we recommend the deletion of $5 million General Fund from the Science Center in the budget year. This action would maintain $3.1 million General Fund for operational costs and $2.7 million General Fund for the payment of the lease revenue bonds, which allows the Science Center to operate rent-free. To clarify the Legislature's intent, we also recommend the adoption of budget bill language as follows:

"Item 1100-001-0001, Provision 1. It is the intent of the Legislature that the operations of the Science Center be funded entirely with nonstate funds beginning in 2005-06. The state will continue to provide for the payment of the center's lease revenue bonds."

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