Save our state parks

California’s state parks are precious resources, but they’re suffering from neglect. For decades the State Legislature has failed to budget sufficient funds to take proper care of them. As a result they now face a $1.3 billion maintenance backlog that, as the McClatchy papers reported this year, has led to contaminated drinking water at some parks; dangerously eroded trails; deferred repairs at historic sites such as Hearst Castle; and reduced ranger patrols, leading to crime and safety concerns.

Worse, in the current legislative climate they face possible closure, as Gov. Schwarzenegger threatened earlier this year.

Proposition 21 on the November ballot would change all this by authorizing a secure funding source for the parks. It would add an $18 surcharge to vehicle license fees, in return for which state motorists would get free day-use access to all parks. The surcharge would raise $500 million annually, increasing state-park and wildlife-conservation funding by $250 million, and reduce the budget deficit by $140 million.

Ordinarily the CN&R does not support ballot-box budgeting. In most cases it just makes balancing the state budget more difficult. We would much prefer that the Legislature find a way to fund the parks. But, given the current climate in the Capitol, that’s not going to happen, and it would be irresponsible of Californians to allow their parks to close or degrade further.

Besides, Proposition 21 actually would have a positive impact on the state budget by providing an outside source of funding for the parks. And it doesn’t rely on expensive bonds on which the state would have to pay interest in future years.

Parks bring in millions of dollars in tourist revenues that benefit neighboring communities. Keeping them healthy is in everyone’s interest.