Sunday, April 06, 2008

More on New Jersey Park Closings

There has been some continuing reactions - mostly negative - regarding the announcement that the DEP would close access for part or all of a dozen state parks. The NJ Sierra Club, for example, has started a petition drive to keep these parks open. So far I have refrained from signing it even though I would prefer to see the parks stay open. The public should have access to public land. I am especially sad to see the closing of places that I have visited, like Monmouth Battlefield, Byrne-Lebanon, and Worthington.

However, what gives me pause is the thought of potential alternatives. One recent article on the park closures featured this commentary:

"People have said they want this government cut," said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Paulsboro, referring to a series of public hearings in which residents rejected a Corzine plan to raise highway tolls to meet a state budget crisis, telling him to reduce state spending instead.

"That means that at some point something has to go," Burzichelli said. "And that's going to hurt."

As for the parks, Burzichelli said: "We have to come up with a way to keep these facilities open. We may have to reach out to our county partners, to see if they can operate some of the parks."

Burzichelli said that user fees could be another way of keeping the parks open, and finding other places to cut within the DEP a third.
When faced with a budget shortfall, government agencies can either raise revenue (in the form of taxes or user fees) or cut spending. A revenue increase is not politically viable thanks to the failure of the toll hike proposal and high municipal taxes. So the DEP is faced with a cut of $59 million out of last year's $480 million budget. Given the severity of the cuts needed to meet these parameters, what alternative cuts would allow these parks to stay open? As hard as it is, I would prefer to see the cuts come from park access rather than invasive species removal, water quality monitoring, or wildlife conservation, if the choice came to that.