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Other Budget Issues

Last Updated: 5/18/2010
Budget Issue: General Fund Savings Opportunities in State Parks
Program: Department of Parks and Recreation
Finding or Recommendation: Retain previously adopted funding reductions for state parks and reject the Governor's proposal to fund state parks from the General Fund at the 2008-09 level ($140 million). This recommendation will result in $22 million in General Fund savings compared with the Governor's May Revision proposal. Given the state's fiscal situation, the Legislature should examine further opportunities for General Fund savings from the budget for state parks.
Further Detail

The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) acquires, develops, and manages the natural, cultural, and recreational resources in the state park system and the off-highway trail system. The state park system is comprised of 279 units of which DPR operates 253 (the remainder are operated by local entities). Funding for the operation of state parks comes from a combination of the General Fund, user fees, gasoline taxes, and other special funds.

Governor’s May Revision Proposal. The Governor’s May Revision restores General Fund support for DPR to $140 million for 2010-11. The May Revision proposal replaces the January budget proposal to fund state parks with $140 million of revenue from the proposed Tranquillon Ridge oil-drilling lease (the administration withdrew support for the Tranquillon Ridge lease in May, 2010).

Funding Restored to 2008-09 Levels. General Fund support for state parks was $140 million in 2008-09. As part of the 2009-10 Budget Act, the Legislature reduced General Fund support for state parks in 2009-10 by about $8 million and stated the intent to reduce General Fund support by a further $8 million in 2010-11. The Governor vetoed a further $6 million of General Fund, resulting in reductions of about $14 million in 2009-10, increasing to about $22 million in 2010-11 under the Governor’s then budget plan. The Governor’s May Revision proposal reverses these cuts and restores funding back to the 2008-09 level of $140 million.

Recommend Legislature Retain Previously Adopted Funding Reductions. Given the state’s fiscal situation, we recommend the Legislature not restore General Fund support for state parks back to the 2008-09 level of $140 million. Rather, we recommend that the Legislature maintain General Fund support for state parks at no more than $118 million, the maximum amount approved by the Legislature and the Governor for 2010-11 in the 2009-10 budget process. This reduced funding level—$8 million below the current-year funding level—will likely result in additional seasonal closures and further reduced services at state parks (such as trash collection and cleaning).

Opportunities May Exist for Further General Fund Reductions… Again, given the state’s fiscal situation, the Legislature should consider options for reducing General Fund support beyond the minimum level of reduction we recommend above. For example, in previous budget cycles, the administration has made the following proposals:

  • 2009-10 May Revision Proposed to Remove All General Fund Support. In the 2009-10 Governor’s May Revision, the administration proposed removing all General Fund support for state parks by 2010-11, resulting in the closure of 220 of the 279 park units and reductions in headquarter operations. The only parks to remain open would have been those operated by local entities, those funded though either the Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund or the Harbors and Watercraft Fund Revolving Fund, or those that generate enough revenue to both cover their operating costs and contribute to statewide operating costs.
  • 2008-09 January Budget Proposed to Fully Close 48 State Parks. In the 2008-09 budget process, the administration proposed closing 48 parks to achieve $13 million in savings ($8.9 million from park operations and $4.4 million in related administrative costs).

…However, Fully Closing State Parks Presents Challenges. Closing state parks to the public and placing them into what is called “caretaker status” presents a number of challenges. Firstly, some park units are difficult or impossible to close so as to completely restrict public access. Continued, unrestricted public use may result in degradation of natural resources, damage to historically or culturally important assets, illegal activities, in addition to raising potential liability issues for the state. Secondly, some state parks operate under agreements with the federal government that are a condition of receiving federal funds. Closing such parks may result in the federal government taking over the ownership and operation of the parks, as well as jeopardizing future federal funds. Finally, local economies could be negatively impacted by the closure of state parks in their local area and the resulting loss in visitor-related spending.

Recommend Legislature Direct Administration on Service Reductions. If the Legislature reduces General Fund support further than the $22 million as originally intended, we recommend that it provide clear direction to the administration on how to implement the service reductions and/or park closures. The intent of such direction should be to minimize the adverse programmatic and economic impacts of the funding reduction from a statewide perspective. The administration should also be directed to identify opportunities for transferring operations of state parks to local entities or to non-profit organizations. In order to maximize revenues from the summer season, we recommend that any further service reductions or park closures should not take effect until September 2010.