I've been rethinking my post from earlier this week expressing skepticism about a November ballot initiative to fund state parks with money from an increase in the vehicle license fee -- the dreaded "car tax" in California political speak.
I argued that funding parks via the vehicle license fee is a bit strange. What's the connection between the two? But there's an obvious answer, and one offered by several readers: Californians drive to state parks.
The initiative itself recognizes this in a crucial way. Since California's licensed drivers would be paying $18 more if they approve the initiative, they would be admitted free to state parks (presuming they are driving a car with valid plates). Such a system is in use in at least one other state.
That makes the initiative much more attractive, though it doesn't settle all policy concerns.
Here's one such concern: This initiative is part of a problematic trend of taking money away from general purposes and reserving it for specific purposes. That ends up protecting the programs that have this kind of special protection. It's quite rational, under this system, for supporters of the state parks, which has not had such protection, to seek such protection via the ballot initiative.
But it's exactly this sort of initiative that has made it so difficult for lawmakers and the governor to balance the budget. There are too many rules, too many restrictions, too many whips and chains tying down pieces of the budget. This initiative is one more example of why Californians need to blow up the budget system, get rid of special protections, and start over.