How oil spill could affect state parks budget

Posted on May 19, 2010 by Sonoma Valley Sun

The oil spill in the Gulf may have another far-reaching consequence – undermining the California State Parks’ budget.

In his January budget, Governor Schwarzenegger linked state park funding to proceeds from offshore drilling near Santa Barbara. The Tranquillon Ridge project was to bring the state $100 million next year, some of which would have funded the parks system.

Tranquillon Ridge was never a sure thing – the controversial deal was rejected last year by the State Lands Commission, for example. The governor recently pulled his own support for the deal based on the environmental catastrophe unfolding in the gulf.

Such devastation won’t happen in California, Schwarzenegger promised. “Why would we want to take the risk?” he told The Sacramento Bee. “If I have a choice between the $100 million and what I see in the Gulf of Mexico, I’d rather just figure out how to make up for that $100 million.”

What’s good for the coastal environment may come with the price of less support for state parks. Without a dedicated funding source, the system is a line item in the state’s beleaguered general fund.

The governor’s budget revisions released last week propose funding the parks system at its fiscal year 2008-2009 level, about $140 million.

That figure threw the parks system into a spiral of budgetary turmoil. Since then, budget cuts have forced nearly 150 of the state’s 278 state parks to partially close or reduce services. Deferred maintenance projects within the system total in the billions of dollars.

The proposed budget to begin June 1 “is a far cry from the resources necessary to adequately protect our precious state parks,” replied Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF). “California’s state parks now rank among the most endangered sites in the country.”

According to the CSPF, California’s state parks have been underfunded for decades. While the state’s population, park acreage and park visitation have soared since the 1970s, state park funding and staffing levels have barely increased. 
Meanwhile, an initiative backed by the CSPF which would create dedicated funding for the parks system is awaiting certification for the November ballot. The State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act would raise about $500 million a year through an $18 per car surcharge. Vehicles subject to the new fee, which would be added to registration costs, would receive free, year-round admission to all state parks. The money could only be spent on parks, urban river parkways, wildlife, natural lands and ocean conservation programs.

More than 700,000 signatures, well beyond the 434,000 required, were submitted to the secretary of state as part of the certification process.