|Budget Issue:||General Fund support for state park operations|
|Program:||Department of Parks and Recreation|
|Finding or Recommendation:||Approve Governor’s January budget proposal to create $11 million in ongoing General Fund savings beginning in 2011-12, resulting in a General Fund support budget of $119 million--a level consistent with the 2009 budget plan approved by the Legislature and previous LAO recommendations. The Governor also proposes an additional $11 million of ongoing savings beginning in 2012-13. We withhold recommendation on this component of the proposal, pending submittal of a plan for achieving these savings.|
The Governor's proposal reflects the Department of Parks and Recreation--a department that has a significant amount of support from the General Fund--contributing to the General Fund budget solution. It brings the department to the level of General Fund support in 2011-12 that was approved by the Legislature as part of the 2009 budget plan.
The Governor's budget provides direction to guide the development, by mid-February, of a plan by the department for achieving the savings--namely, that state parks will be partially or fully closed in a way that minimizes impact on attendance by closing state parks with the lowest attendance and revenue generation. In concept, this appears to be a reasonable approach. In its evaluation of the Governor's proposal, the Legislature will want to pay particular attention to the details of the department's "closure plan." The Legislature should consider whether the plan adequately addresses a number of challenges, and mitigates to the extent feasible the potential adverse impacts, that can arise when state parks are closed to the public and placed into what is called “caretaker status.”
These challenges and impacts include the following. 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.