Fuel Tax Surplus Could Save California State Parks
Funds Earmarked for Off-Road Recreation Which Generates Only 1/6th of Revenue
Sacramento — California’s Off Highway Vehicle Trust Fund has enough money to save state parks from the chopping block but special interest politics keeps it locked away, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). State officials contend the $60 million the Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) Trust Fund receives each year may be used only for projects benefiting dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles even those these vehicles generate just 17% of the fuel tax revenue in the fund.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has announced plans to close 220 of California’s 279 parks, unless the Legislature finds a way to replace $143 million in general fund monies. Yet not a single State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) is slated for closure, because the OHV Division of the state Department of Parks & Recreation claims this program is user funded – a claim that PEER disputes
“The lion’s share of the millions in fuel taxes that fill the OHV fund comes from street legal vehicles,” stated California PEER Coordinator Karen Schambach, pointing out that the OHV Division refuses to fund any project that doesn’t provide for “green sticker” recreation for non-street legal motorcycles, ATVs or snowmobiles although nearly 83% of the funds are generated from street legal vehicles. “Both fairness and common sense dictate that state parks should be receiving nearly all of this revenue.”
While social programs, law enforcement and fire protection programs are being slashed throughout the state, the OHV fund continues to be funded at full levels, primarily through transfers from Motor Vehicle Fuel Tax revenues. Meanwhile, the OHV Trust Fund is so awash in money that more than $5 million allocated for maintenance goes unspent but is declared unavailable for other uses.
“The OHV Division, by refusing to fund any ‘non-green sticker’ opportunity, is in violation of the spirit and the express language in SB742 which stipulates ‘extra consideration’ for projects providing motorized access to non-motorized recreation like swimming and hiking,” Schambach added, urging the Legislature to reallocate the $49.8 million dollars attributable to street legal vehicle use to the Department of Parks and Recreation to support state parks which serve the motoring public. “It is ridiculous to have this one branch of Parks & Recreation hoard all these funds while hundreds of parks are on the chopping block.”
Another complication is that 67 of the parks Gov. Schwarzenegger proposes to shutter were financed with federal funds. The National Park Service has notified state officials that it may seize land removed from the park system. In addition, the state may forfeit future federal funds for park enhancements.
“Closing parks is one of the dumbest economies a tourist-dependent state could make,” added PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “California is running ads, featuring the Governor and his wife, across the country pitching the state’s great lifestyle. Boarding up its most scenic parks looks like false advertising.”