Will Californians pay more to save state parks?
Proposition 21 on California's November ballot is being closely watched as a possible solution to widespread budget woes afflicting state parks around the nation. California parks have seemingly been pulled from the brink of wholesale closure — as proposed by Gov. Schwarzenegger last year. But the future of the nation's oldest and largest state park system is far from secure.
The proposition would impose an $18 surcharge on motor vehicle registration. The levy is expected to raise $500 million a year and would for the first time provide consistent funding for state parks and wildlife conservation programs. The state would eliminate day-use fees and parking charges for California residents, although camping fees and boat launching charges would remain.
According to the legislative analyst's office, about $200 million currently spent on parks would remain in the general fund, available for other uses. Current funding for the state parks accounts for one-tenth of 1% of the $85-billion state budget.
Although Schwarzenegger's threat to close the parks may have been grandstanding, around the country it's a real prospect, especially in the West, where officials in Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Washington confronting huge budget overruns are considering options such as closing, privatizing or selling parks.
Closures have happened in Arizona, where the budget for the state park system has been effectively hijacked, the governor raided a voter-approved conservation and land-acquisition fund, and the Legislature stopped directing lottery revenue to a parks heritage fund.