California has 278 state parks, of which 246 are operated and maintained by the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and 32 by local entities. Other state departments, such as the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and various state conservancies, own and maintain other lands for wildlife conservation purposes.
State funding for the operation of state parks has averaged around $300 million annually over the past 5 years. Approximately half of this funding has come from the General Fund, with the remainder coming mostly from park user fees and state gasoline tax revenues.
Capital improvements to existing parks and the development of new state parks are largely funded by voter-approved bond funds. There is no dedicated annual funding source for state park maintenance projects, of which there is now a significant backlog.
Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed shutting down 220 state parks as part of an effort to resolve the state budget crisis. The closures were averted, but other funding cuts have left the parks system in critical condition. Many parks now have reduced operating hours, are open fewer days and have delayed maintenance. Sixty parks were partially closed over the last year, with another 90 suffering service reductions, resulting in leaky roofs and unkempt trails throughout the state.
Proposition 21 would add an $18 annual surcharge on all vehicles (except for commercial vehicles, trailers, and trailer coaches) registered on or after January 1, 2011. The DMV would collect the surcharge when annual vehicle registration fees are paid. These surcharge revenues would be deposited into a "State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund" for the sole use of state parks and wildlife.
The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that the fee will net revenues of $500 million. After offsetting some existing funding sources, these revenues would provide at least $250 million more annually for state parks and wildlife conservation.
The measure allows up to 1 percent of the surcharge revenue to be used for administering the trust fund. The Department of Parks and Recreation would receive 85% of the funds for the operations, maintenance, and development of the state parks system.
The surcharge payment would exempt vehicles from day-use fees, which range from $10 to $15, at all state parks (including state parks currently operated by local entities) as well as to other specified state lands and wildlife areas.