Campaigns/Elections Prop 21—Why Californians don't need a car tax to save their state parks


Once considered the best in the nation, California's state parks are falling apart due to chronic underfunding and mismanagement.  The park system has a backlog of $1 billion in deferred maintenance and, last year, 150 of California's parks closed part-time or suffered service reductions.

What's the solution? Supporters of Prop 21 believe that the answer lies in a new car tax. If Prop 21 passes in November, California drivers will have to pony up an additional 18 bucks when they register their cars. In exchange, California drivers will be able to use state parks during the day without paying an entrance fee.

Does it make sense to tax drivers to subsidize park users? What's the alternative?

We went to Sedona, Arizona and met with Warren Meyer of Recreation Resource Management. As Meyer explained, California doesn't need a car tax to save its parks. Instead, California should contract with private park management companies that can manage parks more efficiently than public agencies while actually paying rent to the government for the right to do so.

Approximately 7.5 minutes. Produced by Paul Feine and Alex Manning.

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  1. Better answer: Sell off the state land altogether. It’s not the state’s job to run recreation areas.

    1. By owning the land and leasing it to private park management companies, the state can expect a steady income stream instead of a one-time gain.

      1. Because we all know that government is supposed to be a for-profit enterprise.

      2. The government can’t be trusted to not blow a one time gain, since all government is run by fucking idiots.

        1. Put the money directly inot paying off debt.

    2. Heretic!

      1. Yeah, well, say goodbye to your little sinecure when we defund CPB. I’m sure there’s a HUGE market out there for films featuring people talking monotonously over still photographs.

        1. You know you love it when I zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

    3. That is an excellent idea. In fact the vast majority of state and federal land should be sold to private enterprise.

  2. Lemme run that through the California Translator:

    Instead, California should contract with private park management companies evil corporations that can manage exploit parks more efficiently ruthlessly than devoted and highly expert public agencies while actually paying rent bribes and kickbacks to the government for the right to do so.

    Something tells me it ain’t gonna happen.

    1. you left out “AND GAIA!!!!!”

  3. So it will be like SOMALIA?

    1. Yes, just like Somalia. California will be leaving the Ethiopian paradise and descending into the pit that is Somalia.

      1. You’re thinking Eritrea.

        1. The Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce assures me that they are a paradise.

  4. Why Californians don’t need a car tax to save their state parks[.]

    Because pretty soon they won’t even have cars to tax.

    1. Californians don’t need cars, they are demonic CO2-spewing tools of the devil. All development should be aimed at getting people to exit their cars and take public transit. If you lose your jobs because of CO2 taxes and green jobs, we applaud your sacrifice for Gaia.

      1. Now, that’s what I am talking ’bout!

    2. If gas taxes and registration fees covered all of the road repair and development no one would have a car.

  5. Does it make sense to tax drivers to subsidize park users? What’s the alternative?

    Tax bicycle users! Yeah!

    1. And the bike tax should be higher for those wanna-be Lance Armstrongs in the spandex with all the logos. Yeah, tax the shit out of those muthas

  6. What, it’s never occured to someone in California to just charge an entrance fee.

    No wonder the place is so fucked up.

    I guess it’s just like the Golden Gate Bridge Authority won’t charge a toll to pedestrians and cyclists in spite of the demonstrated revenue potential. Just give shit away, why don’t ya?

    1. Then poor people will never get to go hiking and end up obese.

      1. Fuck the poor.

      2. Of course, if you actually go to a California state park, you’ll notice that they are jam packed with native Californian yuppies and European tourists.

    2. I think it’s in the California state constitution.

      I know it guarantees tuition-free college education (which is why California state schools charge fees, not tuition).

    3. I’m not convinced charging pedestrians would generate revenue.

      First, there is a large percentage of foot traffic from tourists who spend money in other ways. Charging them to walk the bridge provides a disincentive to visit the bridge, reducing revenues while having no effect on the maintenance costs, since pedestrians cause almost no wear and tear on the bridge.

      Second, many people cycle on the bridge to avoid the toll. Charge them and they will be more likely to drive, increasing maintenance costs and traffic.

      Granted, increased traffic will provide an incentive to bike, but I suspect that at best you’ll break even financially by charging cyclists, while also increasing smog and traffic.

    4. California does charge an entrance fee to use state parks, generally $8-10 per vehicle. I live in an area with lots of state parks, but I seldom visit them because it annoys me to have to pay money to go for a walk or sit and read a book on public land.

    5. Yes, it occurred to them, but apparently the parks are so expensive and the demand so small, that the only way they can support them is to force everyone to buy a ticket and to double the price of admission.

      Clearly these parks are something that the people of California value!

    1. At state parks???

    2. Nevada truck stops?

  7. I know if I owned three hundred miles of oceanfront property and I needed a billion dollars, the first thing I’d think to do is rob everybody.

    1. Robbery is always my 1st option, for any problem.

      Ran out of milk? Robbery.
      Dog needs to go outside? Robbery.
      Power Outage? Robbery.

      It’s more versatile than duct tape.

      1. I disagree.

  8. After they legalize marijuana they can rent the parks to growers

  9. Who loses when public agencies contract with private companies to run parks? The public employee unions.

    Who has the legislature in their back pockets? The public employee unions.

    This is, unfortunately, a non-starter.

  10. Can we just open up the parks for hunting Pauly Shore? The most dangerous game indeed, buuuuuudddyy.

    1. I fail to see anything dangerous about that. Not as far as the hunting and shooting goes, anyway.

      1. What makes it dangerous is how excited you get about being able to shoot Pauly. You get stupid and careless. You want some grindage, bro?

        1. I see. I think the greater risk is getting too close to him and being infected with whatever he has.

          1. No, dude, he became purified after spending the time in the bio-dome. Don’t you pay any attention?

            “Eat up, Stephen…you’re the weakest.”

            1. You’re talking to the wrong person–I don’t acknowledge his existence.

  11. I am so sick of hearing how every city needs money and is cutting costs and closing down so many things. WHY (since we SUPPOSEDLY have a seperation of church and state) don’t they simply rescind the tax exempt status of churches?? Other than those SPECIFIC and clearly documented charitable acts – everything else should be taxed. Maybe this sounds harsh to some – but in these depressed economic times – such an exemption is moronic. No wonder why there are churches on every corner in every town around the country. The most profitable business there is anywhere. And raking in money hand over fist. Can you imagine how much relief that would bring to cash strapped states?

    1. Since the majority of that money raked in is either used for payroll which is taxed or for charity which isn’t taxable, you’re talking property taxes. But while we’re at it, let’s tax charities. They’re some of the most profitable businesses out there and are also raking it in hand over fist.

    2. How about IRA’s and the mortgage tax exemption, they are all give-aways to one industry or another.

  12. All state and federal parks should be supported by use or entry fees only.

  13. Does it make sense to tax drivers to subsidize park usersemployees?

    Depends on whether you’re a park employee or not.

  14. Once considered the best in the nation, California’s state parks are falling apart due to chronic underfunding and mismanagement.

    AKA Nature is taking them back over.

    I love it how in Washington, after a big storm, the state kept talking about “environmental damage to our parks”.


    Two things:
    That states need to explore public private partnerships more…I agree.


    This segment misses a few key things about this ballot initiative that everyone also seems to be missing.

    1) this ballot initiative was not authored by the state. It was offered by a lobby firm representing nature conservancies.

    2) article 4 item “d” in the text of the original and approved submission to the state (link above) shows that this ballot initiative is a Trojan horse. Two percent of the take on a projected 500mm to 1bn per annum for a fund run by conservancy groups is the tell. Why do they want to funnel tax money to their coffers? Because we are in a recession and they are broke.

    It’s all there in writing. 2% seems innocuous enough, and most wil gloss over this. But it translates into millions for these conservancies to continue to acquire land in CA. Not that this is a bad thing (but bad for farmers in CA who cannot afford land anymore to farm, but I digress) but this is absolutely not about the state’s folly. It is about private interests (yes I include nonprofits here) gaming the system.

    Read article 4 item d, if you don’t believe me. Reason ought to read the legislation carefully before putting an argument out there that critiques a proposal of the state that doesn’t actually exist.

    1. “Reason ought to read the legislation carefully before putting an argument out there that critiques a proposal of the state that doesn’t actually exist.”

      Where exactly does Reason make the point that this is a proposal *by* the State of California?

      …and although I understand why the authoring agency of the initiative is an interesting factor, I don’t see how that is relevant to Reason’s critique. (i.e. How is it relevant to Reason’s critique that this was *not* put forth by the State of California?)

      1. What is (more than) implied by this video segment is that the state is trying to use the vehicle (no pun intended…I think) of a vehicle tax as a way to keep the state parks running, and free. That the state ought to look to the private sector for an alternative incentive and asset management model. That is fine and well, assuming this was the state’s idea in the first place. It wasn’t. Therefore it should be used as fodder to advance a pro-market orientation. This is a private entity (or basket of entities) through a lobby rep that is attempting to funnel tax-originated funds to private interests, using this ballot initiative as cover. It is not simply an interesting factor, as you say, but it is the Whole Story.

        Don’t get me wrong, I agree with Reason’s remedy, I truly do. But they are calling out the wrong culprit. Ballot initiatives, as you know ( or maybe you don’t) are the only mechanism to create legislation by non-legislators there is. The state merely allows this to occur, but did not sanction the content of the proposed legislation, only vetting it for things like it is not advocating killing kittens, etc. And for critical mass of signature support verifying demand.

        You don’t have to accept my interpretation of Reason’s target in their critique, but I saw opportunism serving a textbook libertarian (ie anti-government etc) stance. In this case, the state of CA did not come up with this tax idea ( the video kicked off with this), a lobbyist did, a lobbyist serving private interests. If CA voters go for this, it will be because of the cunning of the stakeholders of this initiative, not because of the ineptitude of government. reason can riff on government all it wants, and I often agree with it’s stances, but it is important to call a spade a spade.

    2. I guess your point is that Reason normally criticizes governments, and since this new tax is (by your definition) private activity, Reason shouldn’t criticize it?

      Regardless of who originally came up with the idea, it’s a government mandated and government collected tax. Libertarians favor free markets, not state tax dollars being handed out to “private” organizations. There’s nothing contradictory or unusual about Reason opposing prop 21.

  16. Not that I disagree with public-private partnerships for park management, but making a convincing argument for them is probably a little bit trickier than simply interviewing a guy who owns a private park management company. And his employee. Duh, of course he’s going to say this is the best plan since slicing bread. Do you typically trust a restaurant review that’s written by the chef?

    Next time, Brenda Starr, Intrepid Reporter, how about including the opinions of some of the parks’ owners, benefactors, and customers: people who visit the parks Meyer manages.

  17. So, the Sempervirens Fund, is a wonderful Bay Area land trust that buys up patches of redwood forests as they become available and eventually donates them to the California state park system.

    A few years ago, they bought Hewlett-Packard’s old company retreat, Little Basin. But, for whatever reasons, the transfer to the state of California hasn’t happened yet. The place has turned into a really, really nice, de-facto private redwood park.

    And, I’d argue that it’s just as available to the public as any state park — you can make an annual membership contribution of like $15 bucks to the Sempervirens Fund or the Peninsula Open Space Trust, and gain access to the park. Parking at Big Basin State Park, just down the road, is like $10.

  18. Wait, isn’t letting parks return to a natural, untouched state something that would appeal to environmentalists? And it’s cheap, so double win.

  19. Another reason why so many refugees from California are coming here to Texas without any silly car tax or state income tax. We get a lot of refugees from New York here in Dallas too. That’s fine, many of my best friends are native New Yorkers.

  20. It’s also note worth that most state and federal park lands are leased for traditional economic activities like mining, oil exploration, logging and agriculture (not including illicit agricultural activities). This land would be better off if it was sold to the people and companies which have managed this land for generations.

  21. You all claim government is run by idiots. We live in a democracy, where we elect our government officials. What does that make you?

  22. I just wanted to leave a nice little note on the good thing that prop 21 would produce. I guess if you want to say its a tax o.k. but you do get alot in return. Its something that all will help insure our parks that all of us can use. I live in Modesto and we have a wonderful little park called Caswell state park that is about thirty minutes from our house. This park is in the middle of the orchards outside of Ripon Ca. and once you enter the park the trees and the foilage makes the orchards disappear and you feel like your somewhere else. Its a wonderful place to camp, hike, fish and swim in the river. The Park is a place that I am pitching for a field trip or an overnight field trip for our elementry school. Privatising would probably make this place go away and consider that the 18 dollars that is spent equals 6 gallons of gas that we spend on travel every day. Is it worth our wetlands,estuaries and State Parks for the general public to let this go. Look at your kids and say to them ” I remember when this was here for us to vacation at and have fun”. With what is suppose to be saved and given to our children and theirs, is it worth 6 gallons of gas , after all its ours and its special. Should’nt we leave it for our kids to decide or give it to someone who looks at profit for no other resone than to benefit themselves for the sacrifice of all of us. Please go Camping and see the parks that we have. Please vote YES ON 26

    1. Sorry I have been sick and tried not to mess up on this and I feel commited to this its prop (21) and Im so embarred. GO PROP 21!

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