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Green & Bankrupt: California Privatises Public Parks

Once again, California is boldly going where no state has gone before. As budgetary pressures continue to dictate the political reality, the Golden State has decided to hand over the management reigns of six major state parks to private companies, the Wall Street Journal reports. The move comes after a whopping 20 percent decline in annual funding for the nation’s second-largest state park system since 2009.

This is looking like a pretty smart move. The facilities as currently run are described as“covered by cobwebs and bugnests”, “prickly thistle bushes”, and “yellow caution tape”, and the parking lots, understandably, have plenty of spaces open and few visitors. A good number of parks are only raising half the revenue that the Department of Parks and Recreation spends to operate them, and big companies like American Land & Leisure see business opportunities by running parks with less overhead than the state government.

As Ruth Coleman of the Parks Department told the WSJ, the change could be an opportunity to learn “a lesson from the private sector” before the parks return to state management when the five-year contract ends.

This is why the blue model is doomed. Ideologically, California is about as blue (and as green) as you can get. It has state employee unions up the wazoo. It promises everything to everyone and its politicians are 100 percent confident that they understand the economy much better than all those ill-bred losers in the private sector.

Turning parks over to private enterprise is what most California Democrats would consider a thought crime; if Republicans did it they would be denounced as the worst kind of villains, turning poor little Bambi over to Halliburton.

But despite deploying every liberal nostrum known to man, despite all those wise ‘green jobs’ initiatives and all that ‘smart growth’, California is an economic and budgetary basket case.

And so it has no choice, and it is privatizing the administration of some of its public parks because there isn’t any money to do it the Rube Goldberg California state government way.

In deep-blue California, it’s privatize or close.

The old bureaucratic ways of doing things are going to change because they produce too much friction; they are becoming less and less efficient. Like a decayed family of Russian aristocrats, California is selling (or at least leasing) the cherry orchard to save the rest of the farm — for a while. But without much deeper reform and restructuring of the state’s government, dramatic cuts in both subsidies and taxes across the state, the dismantling of regulations (including a great many overwrought ‘green’ ones), and overhauls of school systems from K through the university system, the state will gradually get poorer and poorer.

Thinking reforms through and undertaking them sensibly and in some kind of organized way is going to be much cheaper and will serve the people of the state much better than the current method of feckless procrastination followed by frenzied budget cuts when the bailiff is pounding on the front door.

The ostrich approach to budgeting won’t work. California’s current strategy is to  keep its head resolutely stuck in the sand, fantasizing about the glamorous new high speed trains that will someday sweep across the state, waiting for those beautiful unicorns to descend from the Sierras, scattering green jobs and prosperity across its heavily regulated and highly taxed cities and farms, paying the pensions of state workers without cutting services.

Those unicorns aren’t coming, but change is. California can either surf the waves of change or be crushed by them. But what it cannot do is preserve the blue status quo. Our new vocabulary word for today is: “unsustainable.”