California Should Privatize State Parks

The New York Times ran this op-ed yesterday critizing Gov. Schwarzenegger’s plan to close 80 percent of the public parks in California to save $213 million. They argue that:

But it is worth pointing out that state parks — about 80 percent of which would close under the governor’s plan — provide low-cost recreation at a time when low-cost recreation is at a premium. Closing them means no water, no electricity, no public access and — because rangers would be laid off — no policing of what would become vacant lands.

State parks exist not only to offer recreation but also to protect natural resources. That protection would essentially vanish. It’s also worth considering the additional cost, in a better economic climate, of reopening the parks after nearly two years with no maintenance.

These are all decently, understandable, but unconvincing arguments, even in the aggregate, when you consider the $42 billion hanging over California’s head. But the NYT is still right, the Governator does not have to close the parks. There is a better way. And that better way is private operation.

The state could save operations money on the parks—and make money on top of that—if they leased the parks to private firms that would pay the state for the right to operate them and then keep them open and maintained for the public. Sure, people would rather not pay for a state park, but again, when you’re facing a serious deficit like the state currently is, then you have to think outside the box.