Another Bee Front-Page Parks 'Editorial'
JAN. 27, 2011
By STEVEN GREENHUT
The Sacramento Bee is nothing if not persistent in its push for higher taxes to pay for the state’s park system, as evidenced by its umpteen-part series last summer prior to the failed state parks bond. The Bee stoked fears of a park crime wave in order to push for higher taxes/fees, which is the Bee’s solution to pretty much every problem — no surprise for the house organ for government employees.
As I wrote at the time, “But there’s no reason to be alarmed — unless one is a Bee editor and happens to look closely at the level of alarmist reporting. The series doesn’t document a crime wave so much as it details how the Nanny State criminalizes even the most modest rule-breaking. We don’t see a rash of violence or assault, but the increased willingness of law enforcement to treat smoking, drinking, rafting without life preservers, noise-making and trespassing as crimes, rather than as the normal rule-breaking that has been found at parks since time immemorial.”
In today’s paper, the Bee reports in a front-page news story, “Parks Go Back On Precipice,” that “After spending a century building the nation’s largest and most majestic state park system, Californians are poised to do something unprecedented: Retreat from that legacy and start closing parks.” Everything from the headline to the story text reads like an editorial rather than a news story, but the Bee believes that the parks are endangered. Apparently, there are no other choices than spending more tax dollars or shutting things down.
The Bee’s own columnist, Dan Walters, wrote last year about the widely discussed Washington Monument strategy. When the enormous national park budget is threatened, the officials shut down the monument as a way to annoy the tourists and convince them to go home and lobby their congress member for more cash. Here, faced with a budget mess caused by misspending on unnecessary programs and benefits and other problems, the state government is talking about shutting down The Governor’s Mansion and other beloved parks and historic sites. Isn’t there another way?
The Bee reports that voters rejected the November ballot initiative that would have increased fees, and so “Now, officials at the Parks Department are preparing a list of closures to accommodate the $22 million cut.” People quoted complain that this is the result of tough times, or fear that the cutbacks will lead to vandalism, and report on likely reductions in park hours.
This is so typical of government and of the activists who defend and feed off of it. I love California’s parks and am a big booster of this state and its wonderful history. But why can’t we consider some of the options that never dawn on the Bee or the Brown administration. These options would improve the parks and the ability of Californians to learn about the Golden State’s unique history — but protecting the union labor monopoly in the public sector seems to be what today’s liberals are all about.
For instance, how about reforming the pay and pension packages of these park officials or the hiring of non-unionized workers to replace the high-cost workers employed now by the parks? How about outsourcing many functions to private firms? In the private sector, businesses try to reduce labor costs in various ways rather than make cuts that harm consumers. That’s because the private sector is dependent on happy consumers, who can go elsewhere. The government sector operates for the good of those who work in the bureaucracy, and the customers can go pound sand if they don’t like it. Government likes to cut those things most valued by the public and doesn’t seem to mind when it annoys the public. Don’t like it — give us more money, seems to be their rallying cry!
The state could also consider selling the parks or historic buildings to private foundations and conservation entities, which could then operate them for the benefit of the public, on a non-profit basis. Foundations can use volunteer labor and non-unionized labor. The state’s unions have notoriously fought volunteer clean up efforts along the American River, for instance, and in public schools. They would rather have trash along the river than have volunteers clean it up. The public sector is about job protection, not about improving the public’s quality of life.
The private sector would also rethink how it spends its scarce resources. For instance, a private business would probably shift the work of the park ranger from checking people to see if they are illicitly drinking beer in a park to something far more useful. Chances are, that employee wouldn’t receive a “3 percent at 50” retirement either.
Those of us who oppose higher fees and taxes are depicted as anti-parks, and the public continues to be presented with a false choice of higher taxes or fewer “services.” There are plenty of other alternatives, although one won’t even find them mentioned in the Bee. These alternatives are the right ones for those who care more about parks and the state’s history than in union job protection.
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