Friday, January 15, 2010

Goldwater Institute: Private companies can manage state parks

Arizona state parks continue to make news and be used as a pawn in the budget chess game. Budget reductions approved by the legislature in December will likely result in some park closures. Parks that make money like Kartchner Caverns, Slide Rock, and Lake Havasu will stay open, while money losers will close. Many legislators continue to decry budget reductions to the Parks department, but also refuse to look at realistic alternatives.

Kartchner CavernsI recently received a letter from Warren Meyer, the president of Recreation Resource Management, a Phoenix-based company that manages parks for a wide array of government agencies. His letter says that the parks slated for closure "could easily be kept open" under the management of a company like his. Not only would the parks be kept open, the companies would pay the state for the opportunity to manage them. The parks would actually make money for the state. Not a bad deal considering we're $4 billion in the red.

Mr. Meyer writes that he's been encouraging the Parks Department to consider this option for years to no avail. That means there has been a money saving option on the table for years that the legislature and career bureaucrats at the Parks Department have refused to consider.

There are a multitude of options for preserving our parks that don't require taxpayer funding. For example, instead of keeping Jerome's Davis Mansion closed, do a long-term lease and preserve it by letting it be operated as a bed and breakfast. Some parks and museums could go the way of the Museum of the Horse Soldier in Tucson, where you can see a life-size horse mannequin wearing a WWI horse gas mask, artifacts from Arizona forts, uniforms, weapons, and saddles back to the civil war. Admission is $2.00 and it's privately owned and operated. The owner doubtlessly loses money on his priceless collection, yet there it is, and taxpayers aren't required to spend a dime.

The Morrison Institute has suggested raising license plate fees by $15 to fund the parks, but that is unnecessary. Legislators need to consider all of the options before them and choose those that reduce government spending obligations so that we can begin to climb out of our fiscal hole.

Byron Schlomach, Ph.D., is the director of the Goldwater Institute's Center for Economic Prosperity.

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