If the state of Oregon were suddenly presented with unlimited money to spend, we’d guess its priorities might go something like this: schools first, transportation second, public safety third.
The order of the list might change from person to person, but likely there wouldn’t be much variation in the list itself. And nowhere on it is county parks.
Yet Oregon lawmakers will spend part of next month’s special legislative session to consider a proposal to take money from the state park system and shift it to counties so they can better manage their own parks.
It’s a bad idea.
The state’s own system of parks is hardly rolling in dough. Most of its revenue comes from lottery funds, which have remained relatively stable over the years. Once those funds were in place the state removed the system from the general-fund budget. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department also gets other, smaller amounts of money, including the recreational vehicle fees the state collects. It’s from that pot that money would be shifted to counties.
Too, lawmakers saw fit, a few years back, to move the state fair to the parks department. The fair was in sorry shape — a perennial money loser — and the fairgrounds themselves in bad need of repair and a face-lift. Under the parks department’s management, the fair no longer loses money.
The fair’s shift was not the first such addition to the department’s responsibilities, and it is unlikely to be the last. The fair, meanwhile, will become a public corporation in the months ahead.
Then there’s this. County parks are, in fact, the responsibility of the counties that operate them. The state already sends them some money for their parks, about a third of what it collects in RV fees. Under the proposal lawmakers will consider next month, that would rise to 45 percent over time.
We recognize that counties, many of them, are truly strapped for cash. We know, too, that parks, no matter who pays for them, are a wonderful addition to society. But until the state has so much money it cannot spend it all on more critical programs, it should not shift money to systems that should, by all rights, be paid for by the counties that operate them.