California's Parks and Rec Faces Budget Crisis


Somewhere, Ron Swanson is smiling.

California's Department of Parks and Recreation needs to cut $22 million in the fiscal year 2012/2013. So to plug this budget shortfall, the Golden State is closing some of its state parks. There are currently 278 state parks in California. But after July 1, 2012, 70 of them will no longer be financed by the state. Ruth Coleman, director of California's state parks system, outlines the doomsday scenario:

Our expectation in most cases is that we will have closed the bathrooms and locked them, closed any buildings and locked them, removed trash cans, so all services will be removed. We will have staff that drive periodically. But there won't be any services. So if you go into that park, you're in essence doing it at your own risk.

However, voters are opposed to raising taxes. In 2010, Californians rejected Proposition 21, which would have increased license fees on vehicles by $18. This would have raised $500 million that could have only been spent on parks and wildlife conservation in California. Yet the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Times and the San Franciso Chronicle (hardly bastions of fiscal conservatism) both criticized the measure. The Times criticized using the proposed revenues for parks, rather than health care or schools, while the Chronicle was worried that the fee "hits low-income drivers harder than others." In the end, Prop 21 lost by 14 points, 57-43 percent.

Of course, these budgetary problems could be avoided if the state parks were operated by private owners. Owners could charge visitors a reasonable price to enjoy the parks, which would incentivize conservation and quality service. Meanwhile, taxpayers would not be coerced to pay for something they do not want to fund, as seen by their rejection of Prop 21.

Me on why we should privatize America's national parks. Reason on Ron Swanson. Reason.tv on Prop 21.