It might sound like the funding woes facing California’s state parks have been addressed. A $54 million surplus has been found in the Parks Department budget – hallelujah! That’s more than enough to cover the $22 million budget deficit that had state officials planning to eliminate funding to 70 state parks.
So parks supporters can pop the (organic) champagne and celebrate, right?
Not so fast.
“I think the jury’s out about how this is going to play out,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, on KQED’s Forum this morning.
Goldstein has reason to be cautious. Of the $54 million surplus, $33.5 million is in the Off Highway Vehicle Trust Fund and can only be spent on off-highway vehicle services. That leaves $20.4 million in the Parks and Recreation Fund for the state legislature to re-allocate to keep the parks open, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday.
There’s no word on when or if the legislature will consider re-allocating the funds.
“We all hope the legislature is going to rededicate this funding… to state parks,” Goldstein said. “This is one of the things that should be on everyone’s list.”
But even if the legislature approves the re-allocation, it still won’t solve all the parks’ financial issues. Goldstein noted that the department has a $1.3 billion maintenance backlog that needs to be addressed.
And not all of the parks’ problems are financial. The discovery of the $54 million surplus has shaken faith in state leaders who have been raising money from the public to keep the parks open. Ruth Coleman resigned as parks director on Friday, and an the Chronicle this weekend explored what impact the scandal will have on the governor’s tax measure this November.
“I think, in terms of the issue of public confidence, there needs to be that type of clear audit and transparency for those of us at the local level who want to make sure that the money that’s there for state parks is properly used for state parks,” Berman said.
Some of those who donated funds to support the parks have taken to social media to express their shock and anger over the surplus scandal. Here’s a look at what’s been said: