California officials are looking at ways to reduce the impact that last-minute line-item vetoes made by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in July and other cuts in the state budget will have on state parks.
The release of a list detailing budget-related plans to close up to 100 state parks, that was expected to be released this month, has been pushed back.
Jeff Macedo, a spokeswoman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said today the proposed list of 100 state parks might also be smaller. He said the governor is working with the state Department of Finance to make cuts that would allow some of the parks to remain open.
“There wasn’t really a timeline that was solid on the parks list in the first place,” Macedo said. “It’s something that we’re working on right now to make sure the park budget is being used in the best way. We need to do all that we can to keep state parks open.”
California State Parks spokesman Roy Stearns said the agency is working with the governor to identify additional reductions.
“The governor’s office is helping us take a second look at our budget to see if there are more efficiencies that can be run out to make the closures list smaller and smaller,” Stearns said. “That’s a good thing. Their goal and our goal is the same.”
The proposed closures were announced this summer after last-minute line-item vetoes and other funding reductions resulted in millions of dollars in lost funding for parks.
Schwarzenegger eliminated $6.2 million on top of the Legislature’s $8 million in cuts to the department, which – combined with reduced tobacco tax revenues, lost value of work days from furloughs, and an estimated loss in revenue from closing parks – will result in a $51.6 million loss over the next two years, officials said.
Stearns said the agency is continuing to negotiate with prospective sponsors and partners including businesses, nonprofits and local governments that might be able to help keep the parks open.
At a hearing in Sausalito Tuesday, state and federal officials discussed the status of the proposed closures. Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who is chair of the committee on water, parks and wildlife, called the governor’s decision to reduce funding “an incredibly shortsighted and counterproductive thing to do.”
“It just doesn’t work,” Huffman said. “We’ve never closed a park in California. We have no manual for how to do it. Now that the reality is setting in, we’re beginning to see that it would cost us more than we’d be saving.”
Huffman said the problem with a proposed 20-percent cut in the park department budget over the next two fiscal years in addition to the $14.2 million is that, “We’ve got a park system that’s been operating on a shoestring budget over the last several years. We’ve pushed it as far as we realistically could.”
The breaking point was when the governor added his $6.2 million line-item veto, Huffman said.
“That really did take us from a situation where the parks budget could absorb some cuts to the point where the cuts would end up costing the state and residents far more than we’d be saving,” Huffman said.
Both short and long term solutions were discussed at the hearing. One possible solution under consideration is a vehicle registration fee whereby a $12 surcharge would allow for access to any park in the state.
Huffman said building partnerships is another long-term strategy, but that in the short term, “the bottom line is the governor needs to rethink this.”