Vote NO on Prop. 21!.

Claims (via Prop.21) that the California’s vehicle owners should support the State Parks, by paying extra fees when registering their vehicles, is not only immoral, but another signal example of how badly managed the State of California is, both fiscally, and physically. Need For Fee Total-Cost-Recovery A simple transaction/use model of the State Parks management/operations (based on truecosts) provides the following park visitation pricing scheme: Total-cost-per-visitor= Land acquisition Costs + Yearly Operational costs + Yearly Long-term capital/Maintenance Costs) / Yearly-Number-Of-Users Putting aside land acquisition cost for a moment, and considering only operational costs, total number of users, and the long-term maintenance costs (numbers for which can be found on the Web), we find: Total Number of Yearly Visitors: ~80M Yearly Long-term Capital/Maintenance Costs: $130M Yearly Operational Costs: $468M This means, on a “true-cost” basis, the per-visitor cost to run the current parks is about $7.50, or a cost-per-car of about $35/visit. It is very clear from these use numbers that for every $1 in additional entrance fees charged visitors, the Park System will raise another $80M. Given this simple math, why can not Sacramento simply raise the Park use fees $1-$2 per visitor to pay for the parks? Non-park-using taxpayers might be willing to forgo the land acquisition costs, under the premise that the State has some role to play in providing parks for its residents and visitors. None-the-less, the park users clearly have a greater obligation to pay for these facilities than the millions of non-park-using vehicle owners. How Many State Parks Needed? The question of how many State Parks California needs is not being addressed in this matter. The State Parks Department website provides the names and locations of each of the State parks, but it doesn't provide any relevant data that might be useful in understanding the use, cost of each apartment, or information that might be useful in managing these facilities in the future. Sadly, one gets the sense that the State Legislature is always eager to open a new State park, whether one is needed or not--as long as the park is named after one of their number.

The State Park Department should provide the public at the following data, on a yearly basis: park name, location, size (sq. miles), staff size, budget (expenditures, revenues, deferred maintenance, reserve funds, etc.), visitation count, days open per year, year opened, land acquisition costs, and volunteers utilized. With this sort data, it would be a simple exercise to determine how effectively each of these parks is utilized. Moreover, with this use information available, it would be a straightforward exercise to model the revenue of the parks, based on usage, to determine what it would take so that the parks could become financially self-supporting. It is hard to believe that the State needs to operate 278 parks; therefore, it makes sense to consider reducing this number so that the least used parks can be closed, and no longer burdening the taxpayer. Towards Self-Supporting Parks Some studies have been released claiming parks are regional “nexi”, attracting tourists/visitors that generate revenue far in excess of the cost of operating the parks. Given that visitors must buy gasoline, other kinds of fuel, food, overnight accommodations, guided tours, etc., this is doubtless true. Park-sustaining funds can be tapped from these regional economies by creating Park Assessment/Maintenance Districts around areas where the parks are located. The Assessment Districts would provide the State the ability to increase property taxes, levies, fuel taxes, etc. that would generate enough money to cover the difference between the revenues generated by parks entrance fees and the cost of total costs of operating/maintaining the parks. There is simply no reason that entrance/use fees for the parks, based on a total cost recovery pricing scheme, and taxes/fees collected via regional Park Assessment Districts, should not provide more than enough money for operating, and refurbishing, the State’s parks. Over time, it is even conceivable that the property acquisition costs could be recovered too, with those monies being returned to the public treasury.

Prop.21 Bad Fiscal Precedent If this measure were to pass, which would no doubt generate a spending spree at the State’s parks, requiring even greater subsidy in the future, it is difficult to believe that every special interest in the State would not float their own ballot initiatives to finance general aviation airports, golf course, libraries, new buildings and state/local government employees. It is not inconceivable that the State Legislature would try to move virtually many of the State’s general fund expenditures onto the backs of California’s vehicle owners, if Prop.21 were to be authorized by the voters. This ballot initiative is another example of “democracy gone wrong”, and must be defeated. Vote NO! on Prop.21!

Wayne Martin Palo Alto, CA 09.07.2010

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