Written by Anthony Veerkamp
Last night, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the leadership of the State Senate and Assembly (collectively known as the “Big 5”) announced that they had reached a deal on the state budget.
While the budget deal is not yet available in print, several sources have confirmed that the agreement to erase California’s $26 billion deficit would result in a net budget reduction for state parks of $8 million for the fiscal year that started July 1. More specifically, the proposed budget would actually eliminate $70 million of the state parks General Fund as originally proposed in the Governor’s budget, but replaces (“backfills,” in legislative parlance) $62 million of that amount with other funding sources.
While not nearly as draconian as the Governor’s original budget proposal, the $8 million cut will still be bitter medicine for a state parks system that has already endured decades of chronic underfunding. Some park closures are likely, possibly on the magnitude of 30+, but there is no park closure list at this time.
Nor can preservationists and park advocates assume that the worst is over; few believe that California’s economy has hit bottom, and there are concerns that the general fund revenue estimate upon which the deficit and the new budget are based may be overly optimistic. Preservationists will need to keep up the fight to assure maximum protection for countless historic sites in the state park system.
The Department of Parks and Recreation now has the task of putting together information about the costs, legal requirements, operational requirements, and a host of other considerations to determine which parks to close.
Meanwhile, the budget is expected to go to the full Legislature for a vote on Thursday or Friday, where the deal must be agreed to by a 2/3 vote. While the agreement by the Big 5 makes passage likely, there is much in this budget that both Democrats and Republicans hate, so it is still premature to declare this budget a done deal.
While a budget that further cuts funding for state parks is hardly something to celebrate, this outcome is better for state parks than most people could have imagined. The fact that the budget deal restores over 88% of the Governor’s proposed cuts is a testament to the tireless advocacy of tens of thousands of preservationists and parks supporters who participated in the Save Our State Parks Campaign and told the elected leaders of California that these places matter.
- California's State Parks on PreservationNation
- Save our State Parks
- California State Parks Foundation
Anthony Veerkamp is the Senior Program Officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation Western Office.