For more than a year, critics have accused the California Department of Parks and Recreation of engaging in a "Washington Monument strategy" by threatening to close state parks in the face of budget cuts.
The term refers to a proposal by the National Park Service, many years ago, to close the Washington Monument on certain days to meet budget demands. Critics called it a public relations stunt by bureaucrats to whip up outrage and shield them from reviewing their own spending.
While there may or may not have been a federal "Washington Monument strategy," it's unfair to apply the same label to the state parks system now. Since 2001, the state parks department has undergone repeated budget reductions. As a result, the parks themselves now have a $1 billion backlog in deferred maintenance.
On Friday, the governor announced a deal to cut the state parks budget without full-time closures of parks. It, too, has the whiff of a PR stunt. Arnold Schwarzenegger's announcement does not remove the threat of state park closures. It merely kicks the can down the road.
Originally, the governor sought $36 million in spending reductions from state parks. Last week's deal defers $22 million of those cuts to January. In turn, the parks department has agreed to further defer maintenance, suspend vehicle and equipment purchases, and cut spending at headquarters. Voila! That's $14 million in cuts but only until January.
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