(Updated 5 p.m.) The last time the state closed its parks to save money was during former Gov. Lowell P. Weicker’s administration, but the state’s current budget situation had environmentalists concerned the state’s current budget woes may force lawmakers to consider it.
At the annual Connecticut League of Conservation Voters meeting Thursday, Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Branford, expressed concern that closing state parks would be on the table next year as the state stares down a two-year $2.2 billion deficit.
“There are people who are talking in this economically difficult time about closing state parks,” Meyer said. “That would be a grave mistake.”
A 2011 study by the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis found that the state parks returned $38 for every $1 spent. It also found that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s parks, boating and natural resource programs generate $ 1 billion in economic activity annually, and support an estimated 9,000 private sector jobs. The DEEP General Fund budget for managing parks and natural resources is less than $20 million, while the programs earn direct revenues of $13.6 million annually.
Meyer pulled a card out of his pocket which allows him as a senior citizen to get into the state parks for free.
“I will pay a fee. They need to keep our state parks open,” Meyer said.
He said of the 109 state parks in Connecticut, a majority of them don’t charge a fee at all. “We can have a good honest responsible fee structure that can keep open our state parks,” he concluded.
Speaker-elect Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said in any difficult fiscal time “you can be pennywise and pound foolish.”
While he declined to rule out state park closures, he said, the right investments will benefit the state “not only in the short term, but the long term.”
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he didn’t want to turn the conversation into a debate over the state budget, but “decisions we’ve made over the last couple of years dictate decisions that we’re going to have to make during this budget cycle.”
“And a lot of decisions we’re going to have to make are choosing from bad, worse, and worse,” he told the audience of environmentalists gathered at Capitol Community College.
He said he just came from an arts organization meeting at the Hartford Stage and similarly they are gathering with reports and studies to show how arts and culture are producing economic benefit. He said the legislature understands that “ but we’ve got some very tough numbers we’re looking at.”
Neither party seems to want to rule out any possible budget scenario, as various constituencies fashion their arguments in hopes of avoiding the budget axe.
Republican legislative leaders are expected to meet with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for a discussion on the upcoming special session on mitigating this year’s $415 million deficit.
Malloy has said he doesn’t intend to raise taxes in the next biennium, which means he will have to make deep spending cuts nearing $1 billion.