They’re Calling it a “Park Bond.” Here’s Why it Isn’t

Randy Voepel
California State Assembly, 71st District

Later this week, the State Assembly will vote on AB 18, a $3.105 billion bond to be placed on the June 2018 ballot. Supporters have referred to it as a “Park bond,” marketing it as a way to improve, rehabilitate, and expand our state’s parks.

However, like with so many other proposals to come out of Sacramento, the proposed “park bond” isn’t really what it seems.

There are two key issues with this proposal:

  • A significant amount of funding primarily benefits urban areas.
  • Only a fraction of funds go toward parks — the bond supports largely conservation interests.

For instance, out of more than $3 billion, only $40 million will be allocated for “competitive grants for cities and counties in non-urbanized areas.” This means that a paltry 1.3% of all funds will be dedicated to rural recreation. While it’s true that a majority of Californians live in urban areas, this minimal amount isn’t defensible.

This means that hikers, off-road enthusiasts, and others who enjoy outdoor recreation in rural areas are essentially shut out from the benefits of this bond. They will, however, be forced to pay for it just as much as everyone else.

This is especially problematic for the off-highway vehicle community. Despite raids on the OHV trust fund over several years of millions of dollars, this park bond provides no funding for OHV purposes.

Aside from that, the bond largely doesn’t fund what it claims.

There is a $600 million allocation for climate change projects and wildlife protection.

There is a $145 million allocation to the State Conservancies, which received $327.5 million in Proposition 1 (2014 Water Bond) funding only two-years ago.

There is a $180 million allocation for projects to enhance and protect coastal and ocean resources.

All told, more than a billion dollars will go toward initiatives favored by environmentalists. While it’s one thing to argue about the merits of those initiatives, it’s another to mislabel them as funding for parks.

Beyond the makeup of the bond itself, I have concerns about the long-term fiscal health of our state.

With a mounting “Wall of Debt,” including more than $73 billion of existing bond debt, this “park bond” would only add fuel to the flame.

Currently, California’s debt service ratio is about 7%. That’s the money we are required to pay before we can fund any other program. Does it make fiscal sense to continue tying our own hands? I certainly don’t think so.

This is a problem made even worse by the “parks bond.” It’s likely that refurbishing our parks system will take far less time than the 30–40 year lifetime of these bonds. We’ll be asking the next generation to continue paying $198 million annually for the principal and interest on these bonds long after the benefits have been implemented.

When I served as a Mayor, our city valued parks — but we built them in a fiscally responsible manner that protected taxpayers. There’s no reason we can’t do the same from Sacramento.

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