Parks Bill Held Over in Senate
On Thursday afternoon, the Alabama State Senate took up Senate Bill 260, which calls for a constitutional amendment to protect state parks’ funding by specifying that any money earned by or allocated for parks can only be spent on parks. This bill was introduced in response to the years of administrative transfers of funding from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to the state’s General Fund. Unfortunately, misunderstandings about how state parks are funded and the purpose of our park system led to Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) asking for the bill to be held over until next week.
Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), a sponsor of the bill, noted that Alabama is unique in the southeast because we pay for our state parks through a revolving fund of money earned by the parks themselves, instead of allocating money through the General Fund. Scofield also said that state parks are a “money maker” that can “support themselves” if given the chance. “In years past, because the General Fund has been in the shape it has, money has been transferred out and it’s really put a strain on them to keep the parks up,” Sen. Scofield said. “We’ve decided state parks have to take care of themselves. Let’s let them take care of themselves.”
Sen. Marsh asked if Sen. Scofield would go beyond stipulating that parks’ funding can only be spent on parks and specify that individual parks can only spend money that they have earned. For example, Bladon Springs State Park would not be able to use any of the funds earned by Gulf State Park despite being part of the same state agency. Marsh suggested the state “let the ones that are making money reap the benefits and let the others go to the wayside.”
At the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ state budget hearing on January 14, Commissioner Gunter Guy made it clear that state parks are more than just a revenue stream. “Parks are not meant to be self-sustaining,” Guy said, pointing out that they are offered as a “benefit to the public.” Commissioner Guy also noted that seven out of the 22 state parks are profitable. If Sen. Marsh’s idea to restrict revenue to the park where it was earned is put into law, the state could lose fifteen of our parks.
Since the beginning of 2016, more than 3,000 messages have been sent to legislators and Gov. Bentley in support of our parks. Over half of those messages were to urge legislators to vote YES on SB260 and its companion bill HB249 as they are currently written. Twenty-three of those messages went to Sen. Del Marsh. Voters have made it clear that all of our parks are valuable, and all of them support the outdoor recreation that is such an important part of our state’s way of life. Let your senator know SB260 should be passed as written to protect our parks.