Statement from California State Parks Foundation Executive Director Rachel Norton on Governor Gavin Newsom’s FY 2023-24 Budget Proposal
California’s budget whiplash continues — after two years of eye-popping surpluses, the state is now forecasting a $22.5 billion deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1. We understand that difficult times call for difficult decisions, but we are concerned about the impacts some of the Governor’s deficit-closing strategies will have on the California state park system.
There is good news in the budget. We are thrilled to see support for Dos Rios Ranch in the Central Valley to become California’s newest state park. The $5.8 million in one-time and ongoing support for Dos Rios Ranch will start the process of opening this spot for public access in a part of the state that lacks parks.
Likewise, the continued funding of the Outdoor Equity Grants Program is an indication of the administration’s commitment to park access for all Californians. We are grateful to Governor Newsom for his ongoing support for this important state program.
However, we are very concerned about the proposal to cut $31 million from funds previously appropriated for deferred maintenance. California’s state park system has a huge maintenance backlog that has resulted from decades of underfunding. We were delighted in 2021 when $185 million of the last budget surplus went towards fixing crumbling infrastructure in state parks because ensuring that trails, campsites, buildings, roads, and other amenities are in good shape is essential to a good visitor experience. And the longer such a backlog goes unaddressed, the worse it gets. In negotiations for the current year’s budget, we pushed for additional funds to continue to reduce the backlog. Despite a $101 billion surplus last year, no additional funds were provided. Now, we’re going in the wrong direction.
Similarly, the Governor has proposed cutting $6 billion from the climate resilience package the Legislature passed last year, hoping that at least some of these investments can be backfilled by Federal funding that may be on the way. But in a month where California — and particularly its state parks and beaches — have been hammered by a series of wet, windy storms, it feels like the wrong time to pull back on mitigating the changes we are already seeing in our climate and environment. California state parks have an important role to play in adapting to more frequent and more intense fires, heat waves, droughts, and storms, so any reductions in funding that supports this adaptation have an impact on the state park system. We appreciate that the Governor has signaled his willingness to consider a natural resources bond for 2024 to augment Federal funding in filling the gaps these cuts have left.
Finally, we were disappointed to see reductions in the Statewide Parks Program, administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, which provides funds to expand park and recreation opportunities in low-income communities across the state. We appreciate that the Governor calls for funding the program at $25 million per year over the next three years, which represents an acknowledgment that this program is truly important to park poor communities in California. Indeed, the Statewide Parks Program is so popular that over its lifetime it has attracted applications for almost $7.7 billion, awarding $1.1 billion.
We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor and the state Legislature to ensure adequate funding for parks and to advocate for what California state parks — and their visitors — need now, and for future generations.