California parks could be saved by new proposal
LAKE TAHOE – A solution is in the works keep California’s state parks open — if state legislators can agree.
The Budget Conference Committee recommended last week to fund California State Parks with a $15 fee on vehicle licensing in California. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had recommended closing 220 of 279 state parks as part of his proposal to close a $24.3 billion deficit
Estimating 28 million vehicles in the state at $15 a pop, Sheryl Watson, information officer with California State Parks, said the proposal would bring $420 million for the parks.
The proposal also includes free parking at the parks, she said.
Despite lost revenue from the state’s general fund and parking fees, state parks would come out $240 million better than the current budget, she said.
“I think this is an optimal solution – not only does it generate enough money to keep the parks open, it generates more money to fund the tremendous back log of maintenance and improvements,” said Steve Teshara, executive director the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.
But Teshara said he is concerned that Republicans in the Legislature will stick to a “no new taxes” mantra, blocking the proposal.
“Not all taxes are bad. I believe when the public can see a value for its investment, there is often support for a new tax or fee,” Teshara said.
The proposal would need a two-thirds majority, he said.
“We have had a tremendous amount of support locally in the Truckee-Tahoe area, it has been overwhelming,” said Pam Armas, superintendent for the Sierra District of California State Parks.
The concept of a licensing fee is a good idea, said Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council.
“In principle the idea of directly tying revenue streams to individual projects and programs as a long-term solution to the California fiscal dysfunction makes a lot of sense,” Frisch said.
And the impact to the local economy of closing the parks mean such a solution is imperative, he said.
“It would be an absolute disaster for the Sierra Nevada and Truckee-Tahoe in particular to have the state parks shut down, they are an absolutely critical economic and environmental asset,” Frisch said. “We have to do everything possible to stop it.
“The last thing in the world the state should do is cut programs that bolster economic recovery and state parks are an example of that type of funding, it actually returns more than almost anything else. I’d rather keep state park funding than road funding in the short-term.”
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