AS GOV. ARNOLD Schwarzenegger and the Legislature try to close a $24.3 billion shortfall in California's budget, they are looking at just about anywhere to reduce spending.
That makes sense. Clearly, greater frugality in government operations is long overdue. But frugality is more than simply slashing spending at any cost.
If there is a high price to be paid in the loss of a service to the public, there should at least be a proportionally high reduction in spending.
The governor's proposal to cut off general fund revenues to the state's 279 parks within two years fails the proportionality test by a huge margin.
About 80 percent, or 223 parks, would be shut down, according to park officials. That means the 80 million visitors to California's state parks would be deprived of recreational facilities close to home at a time when many cannot afford to travel.
There also is an economic downside to closing parks. Visitors spend an estimated $2.6 billion a year in and around the parks.
California State Parks Foundation President Elizabeth Goldstein said, for every dollar that funds the parks, visitors to the communities surrounding the parks spend $2.35 in tax revenue.
Also, the parks would suffer the loss of user fees and would still have the cost of patrolling the closed parks to prevent vandalism and trespassing.
The reduced economic activity and loss of hundreds of local recreational facilities for millions of Californians would be a major public cost if the governor's park-closure proposal were to be enacted.
If there were a huge reduction in state spending, perhaps extensive park closures would make sense. But that is not the case.
In fact, the savings from closing the parks would be only one-quarter of 1 percent of the state's budget deficit, according to Goldstein. That is hardly enough to justify such a drastic action.
Perhaps the governor is proposing the park closures as a scare tactic to try to emphasize what everyone already knows: the state's finances are in turmoil. Or maybe he is expressing his frustration over the voters' defeat of the ballot measures in the May 19 special election.
Far greater savings could be made with increased efficiencies in state services across the board and perhaps more state-worker layoffs or furloughs. Many private industries in the state have reduced staffs by 10 percent or more. The state should consider similar reductions.
Parks are not as essential as many other state services, but the savings from closing them are insignificant and could actually be nil if there is a reduction in tax-generating spending by far fewer park visitors. Closing four out of five state parks is a bad idea that needs to be dropped.