Victory over budget cuts is sweet, but problems persist.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
“We Won!” shouts the press release from the Pelican Network, the electronic town criers for Big Sur-based Coastal Habitat. “Governor backs down completely. No parks will be closed.”
The decision by Governor Schwarzenegger and his advisors to back off from their threats to close dozens of California state parks – including many of the natural treasures in our backyard – is indeed a victory to be savored in these worrisome times.
Obama’s decision to forge forward on health care may be creating ulcers for progressives worried he’ll give away everything just to get a bill passed, and seniors frightened by the misrepresentations of the right. Afghanistan is heating up, and so is Iran. But at least for now, we seem to be saving our beautiful parks.
Politics, as usual, was part of the calculation.
“Though few will rue the preservation of the park system, the 11th-inning save does underscore how even in the worst fiscal conditions, the threat of vast cuts is sometimes false, fueling skepticism among lawmakers and voters about ominous budget pronouncements,” The New York Times observed.
We’re not out of the woods, though. At least not yet. “They still have a $14.2-million budget cut,” Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, told the Times. “The governor found a clever way to find some political cover on this issue, but it’s not clear that the plan won’t actually leave Californians with just as limited an access to their state parks as if they were closed.”
Although the decision papered over the shortfall for the current fiscal year, the Parks Foundation and other conservation groups want a November 2010 ballot measure increasing vehicle license fees by $15 a year to keep the parks open.
If all of this sounds familiar, it should.
For those suffering from attention deficit disorder – and who doesn’t, in this media-clogged age? – it was his endorsement of vehicle license fees that helped usher Gray Davis out of office.
Our Terminating Governor came into power amidst a sea of promises about a political New World Order, absent Democratic tax increases, an end to legislative gridlock and the reinstatement of California to its rightful position as an economic and political power.
While Davis, the long-suffering former chief of staff to former Gov. Jerry Brown, will never be remembered as a successful political wheeler and dealer, he was playing the hand he was dealt.
At the time, the cards included an energy crisis, rolling blackouts and the ensuing economic turmoil inflicted by the likes of Enron.
All that was forgotten in the midst of the charisma gap. In a race further complicated by the candidacy of future media mogul Arianna Huffington, Davis proved no match to a movie star who rivaled Ronald Reagan in popularity, but soon proved even less effective than Reagan in dealing with Sacramento Democrats.
Schwarzenegger’s first move: repealing the vehicle license fee. When the recession hit, he was urged to reinstate it, and seemed like he might soften – until the proposed fixes on last November’s ballot all failed spectacularly, causing the Governator to rediscover his “fiscally conservative” roots.
We’ve all sat and watched the resulting mess, from draconian cuts in health care and education to the controversy surrounding early prisoner release, like collective rubberneckers at the worst traffic accident in California history.
Under the circumstances, we need to take our victories where we can.
The fact that the latest moves aimed at preserving the parks coincides with the airing of Ken Burns’ new documentary series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea makes the win that much sweeter, whatever the methods – and motives – of our governor. But in relishing that victory, let’s not forget who else is being hurt by the penny-wise, pound-foolish solutions du jour in Sacramento: The poor, the elderly, the weak, the brown, the black and the beaten.
It’s great, and fitting that the parks funding was re-instated. It should also be restored for AIDs groups and other budget cut victims with less successful lobbies.
Organizations like Big Sur Land Trust have been working hard to make sure the wondrous beauties of our natural scenery are not limited to the enjoyment of middle-class environmentalists, but to the community as a whole, whatever their background.
Let’s applaud the latest moves to preserve the natural trust. One hopes the same political forces who mobilized to stop this disaster from happening will also be able to get Sacramento to stop exploiting the budget crisis on the backs of the people who need help the most.