The role of state parks: Legislature should consider more than just parks’ economic impact
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Mar 29, 2013 | 3188 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The proposed budget coming out of the Alabama Legislature takes $7.8 million from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and moves it into the General Fund. Despite an earlier, voter-approved transfer of money from the Alabama Trust Fund, the General Fund is still ailing from recession tax shortfalls.

That’s why Alabama Parks Director Gregory Lein has written a letter explaining how, if these cuts come, the agency will have to close parks and lay off employees.

The reaction of the Senate’s budget committee chairman and supporter of the cuts, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, was, in effect, “stop whining and take your medicine.” Speaking of the parks, Orr said, “if they can’t survive a 4 percent budget cut, then I would seriously question how they’re doing business.”

It’s a 4.8 percent cut, but let’s not quibble over the small stuff. Look at the big picture.

To Orr’s way of thinking, Alabama’s state parks are not a service the state provides to its people. Instead, state parks are a business that should, in the words of Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, be “profitable at least to where they can hold their own.” What Scofield and Orr and their allies in the Legislature want is to “invest in parks that are on the verge of making money, if not making money.” As for the others, some of which (according to Scofield) “lose money like a sieve,” it might be necessary to close them.

Both Orr and Scofield are calling for a re-evaluation of Alabama’s parks and what they are accomplishing. This page has no reason to oppose that, though the thought of yet another task force or blue-ribbon panel does not excite us.

However, such a re-evaluation must consider more than the economics of the park system.

There are state parks people enjoy that do not produce revenue. Is it not a function of a modern state to provide recreational facilities for residents from the taxes they pay?

There are also state parks that generate revenue. Should the state call on them to generate more and thus price them beyond the reach of poorer residents?

Perhaps the Legislature, as it is re-evaluating how the parks are doing business, should re-evaluate how the senators and representatives are doing business, as well. The problem here is not so much how the parks are run, but what a group of legislators expects state parks to be. Those expectations should also be re-evaluated.
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