Plan pitched at Capitol to save parks slated for closure

1:06 PM, May 8, 2012   |    comments
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It's no secret that Democratic legislators have long thought that Governor Jerry Brown's plan to save $22 million by closing dozens of state parks was a bad idea.

On Tuesday, two of them rolled out a proposal they say would avoid almost all of the park closures.

The plan pitched by state senators Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) and Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) could, they say, provide as much as $41 million a year for parks annually for the next few years.  That would both erase Brown's proposed cut and provide extra money for what advocates say are the long neglected needs at many California state parks.

The proposal will be formally considered in a Senate budget subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

The money, in general, would come from redirecting existing dollars now being used for other purposes... something both legislators seem to think should be looked at before trying to shutter parks.

"The notion of closing 70 state parks was fundamentally ill conceived," said Simitian in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday morning.

About half of the money -- $20 million -- would come equally from a loan of dollars now allocated for clean water projects (a loan which ostensibly would have to be repaid) and a transfer of money from the fee-supported state motor vehicle account.  Both cash transfers would last for five years.

The other half of the parks proposal relies on loosening the rules on where to spend up to $21 million in what are called "local assistance" funds.  Simitian says that's about a third of the existing money doled out, and would be a permanent change to how those dollars are spent.

Both legislators made clear that their proposal only give parks officials the ability, if they need it, to use the specified dollars.  Several of the parks on the original closure list have already found help from private donors and foundations.

For now, it's unclear whether Brown will be willing to support this plan, and thus loosen the existing strings on these dollars to help keep more state parks open.  But it's worth remembering just how small an amount of money the parks cut is ($22 million) in the context of the entire state's general fund ($94 billion)... one sign of just how few big dollar savings seem left to staunch the flow of budget red ink at the Capitol.

Governor Brown's revised state budget, by the way, is due early next week.


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