Parks bill shows rare bipartisan effort
Not even the revelation that misguided state parks officials hid $54 million in reserve funds can dim the wider import of a park-rescue bill now working its way through the Legislature.
This bill demonstrates that even in the polarized Legislature, bipartisanship can occasionally occur. It simply takes an impeccable cause favored by almost everyone in California.
There is no better example than state parks, 70 of which were scheduled for closure July 1 under last year’s budget.
No one wanted to shutter any state parks, but Gov. Jerry Brown singled out the units producing the least revenue and the Legislature went along with the closures.
Most of those parks did not close as scheduled, largely because of novel partnerships between park managers and nearby cities, foundations, local business groups and private donors through arrangements made with little guidance from government.
Wouldn’t it be nice, mused some parks advocates, if such deals could be available to all?
Picking up on that idea has created a rare opportunity for bipartisanship. Now moving through the Legislature is a proposed law that would allow taxpayers to deduct money paid for state park passes from their state income taxes and for the first time would offer state park commemorative license plates for sale. All funds raised would have to be used for park maintenance and operation.
The bill was the idea of 6th District Democratic Assemblyman Jared Huffman, and was quickly co-authored by Republican Assemblymembers Dan Logue of Chico and Diane Harkey, who represents much of south Orange County.
It would be hard to find politicians who disagree more than Logue and Huffman. Republicans have sometimes reviled Huffman as being in the pocket of public employee labor unions, while Logue generally opposes anything those unions like.
And Harkey is best known as a ferocious opponent of high speed rail and any new taxes.
Yet, park preservation has driven these normally divergent politicos together for awhile. By state budget standards, there’s little money at stake here, which surely makes their association easier and less likely to inspire party ire.
Their bill would not just give parks a bit of cash, but also demands that state park executives be more transparent with their closure proceedings and offer managers of threatened parks help in finding alternative financing. State officials would have to disclose their reasons for choosing any park for closure, something they didn’t do last year, when the 70-park closure list was published as a simple fiat.
The measure would limit park closures over the next four years to no more than 25 units. It would also call for parks that generate extra money (read: beach parks in the Los Angeles area that make millions from their large parking lots) to share revenue with less lucrative venues.
The remaining question is whether further bipartisanship can happen on other issues, like schools, in-home health care or the Healthy Families program already cut by Brown.