Closing the Parks: The California Budget Farce Continues

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Pt. Lobos: Will the public soon be fenced out?

We’ve been avoiding commenting on the Governor’s threat to close most of the State Parks (including Pt. Lobos and all the State Parks along the Big Sur coast). Frankly, it’s tiresome to point out what everyone already knows – and we don’t blame you if you stop reading here …

But we know that with our focus on wildlands and parks we would be remiss if we did not at least mention that:

CLOSING THE PARKS WILL NOT SAVE THE STATE MONEY.

An economist at UC Berkeley has calculated that every dollar spent on the State Parks returns $2.35 to the general fund (mainly as sales and income taxes paid by people whose businesses and jobs depend on the parks). And that’s just the benefit to the state’s bank account. A Sacramento State study finds that people, many of them bringing their money with them from out of state, are spending about $4 Billion a year on their California State Parks vacations – most of that going straight into the economies of the surrounding communities. And that’s just the direct spending. The total benefit to the economy is much greater.

The money we spend on the parks is, in essence, an ongoing and highly effective economic stimulus package.

So refusing to spend the one tenth of 1% of the state budget ($70 million) that supports the parks will devastate the communities that depend on the parks AND actually make the state budget deficit WORSE by around $165 million.

You know that, we know that, the legislators know that, and the Governor knows that.

The whole idea is completely stupid.

Yet we’re supposed to take time out of our lives to call and write our representatives, travel to Sacramento to protest and testify, and so on … all to tell people something they already know. Is this really what “civic engagement” has been reduced to in today’s California?

And the State Park cuts aren’t even the Governor’s worst proposal. Far from it. How about his plan to cut $230.8 million from In-Home Supportive Services by kicking all but 36,000 of the 462,000 elderly and disabled people currently enrolled out of the program? The whole purpose of the program is to keep people out of (much more expensive) nursing homes. Even if depriving our most vulnerable neighbors of their homes and dignity could be morally justified (which it can’t), it most certainly can’t be financially justified.

If only 20% of the people who lose In-Home Services end up in nursing homes, the savings will be eliminated – and we all know the number will be much higher than 20%. In all likelihood, the cost of institutionalizing these hundreds of thousands of people, who today live independently in their own homes, will end up dwarfing the cost to the state of closing the parks. This isn’t news in Sacramento either.

So what’s this all about? Why are people proposing things they KNOW will be counter-productive? (We say “people” because, while the examples above are the Governor’s proposals, there are others making equally stupid suggestions.)

Are they trying to punish the public for refusing to vote for their terrible propositions?

Are they trying to irritate us, hoping that enough public outrage will get a few Republicans to cross over and create the two-thirds majority necessary to pass a sane budget?

Are they hoping that if their first proposals are bad enough, we’ll accept whatever they propose next simply because it’s marginally better?

Beats us. But knowing how dysfunctional California politics have become and recognizing that there are in fact members of the legislature who would welcome California’s descent to third world status (as long as that kept taxes low for their wealthiest contributors), we recognize it’s entirely possible that some of these idiotic plans may actually be carried out.

Can we please eliminate the two-thirds vote requirement for passing budgets and return to a democratic form of state government now?

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Sunday Morning Ride. Warm Springs Rd. near Bishop California. June 7, 2009. The peaks, from left to right, are Mt. Humphreys, Basin Mtn., Four Gables, and Mt. Tom. Is this a great state, or what?

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4 Responses to Closing the Parks: The California Budget Farce Continues

  1. pendoodles says:

    We feel that the state has turned everything upside down. To close the parks would have a trickle down effect on everyone that lives in California. Small CA businesses that are nearest to the parks will suffer first. Gov Arnie has put this into effect to punish us CA residents for not voting in his pet projects. SHAME ON YOU ARNIE

    Is there a way out of this mess?

  2. bigsurkate says:

    Actually, I think the proposals are a form of pressure and political manuevering to gain advantage. I don’t think there ever was a *serious* proposal to shut down 220 of the state parks. It doesn’t make economic sense, frankly, and I did not need an economist from Berkeley to tell me this. It is common sense. Something sorely lacking in Sacramento.

    Getting rid of the 2/3 rds or super majority, which only 3 other states have, is something I’ve long advocated. But in this case, it will not help. We have a budget, passed in February, which will see us through until June 30, 2010, at which point the super majority becomes relevant again. We are not lacking a budget, we are lacking the funds to implement the budget we already have! But Republicans are dead set against raising taxes.

    Well, if one is spending more money than one has, one either has to spend less, or make more, or a combination thereof. There aren’t any other choices, folks.

    You’re right. It is pretty obvious that closing the parks is a bad idea. What makes the 2/3rds super majority relevant now is that it’s also (thanks to Prop. 13) required for passing any kind of new tax … and there just isn’t any real way to close the $24 Billion (at last count) budget gap with cuts alone. – XT

  3. BillB says:

    5 of us from Canada have booked a photography trip to the Big Sur area for November. We will be devastated if the parks are closed. Our flights are paid for and we cannot change them. Please do not close the parks, that would make no sense at all.

    If you need money for the parks, charge an entry fee of $10-$15. Nobody would have a problem paying that to support the parks.

    Thank you.

  4. Martha Diehl says:

    Actually, this is a classic budget war maneuver I studied in school. Often used by government agencies facing cuts, it is called the Washington Monument ploy.

    Frequently in the past when faced with threats of budget cutbacks, the National Park Service responded by explaining that if the proposed cuts were implemented they would have no choice but to close the Washington Monument, one of the most visible and beloved national symbols. The resulting public outcry has always so far resulted in forestalling or at least significantly reducing the proposed cuts. This has become so well known that the name is now used generally to refer to such threats.

    It’s annoying, because one never knows whether or not this time someone is dumb enough to actually try said dumb action, but it does usually work. The public generally responds, as they have in this case, and the agency avoids whatever it was they wanted to avoid…

    Sigh.

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