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AMENDMENT 2: Senator Clay Scofield lays out what’s on the line with the state parks

Scott:

So tell me about this Amendment 2 you have going on.

Sen. Scofield:

Well, Amendment 2 is a very important amendment that everybody remembers from last year when the Governor was talking about closing down some of the parks due to the funding crisis. Amendment 2 is a direct result to that and making sure that our parks are going to be fiscally stable and financially stable for years and years to come. Amendment 2 if passed I believe will do just that. The amendment does two things. First and foremost it will keep the legislature from transferring any of the money away from the park system but it does have a $50 million cap so there’s some people who are not real happy with the earmark. This is going to be different from any other earmark in that it is capped. Also, the other point on that is that the parks are a different type of state agency in that they actually make money for the state. You remember very well, Scott, whenever we would appropriate money to certain agencies what would they do with it? They spend it. The parks make money and so the problem has been that because they make money it has been ripe pickings to transfer that money out to anywhere else.

Scott:

And then the parks are not left with the capability to reinvest and then twenty years down the road and everybody says, “Hey the parks are falling in because we spent all the reinvestment money on other projects.”

Sen. Scofield:

That’s right and what does that do? That only drives up and prolongs the cost. The cost is still going to be there but because we don’t maintain it, it’s only going to go up. And so that’s the argument that I’ve been trying to make with this is that you have to understand really how the parks operate and why they operate. The other part has been a little more controversial and it’s really unwarranted. There have been some mistruths spread about it. Essentially what it does is levels the playing field so that all the parks can offer concessionaires. Most parks already are allowing concessionaires but a 1998 bonding issue forbids any of the parks that use that bond money to enter into concessionaires. This is not privatization as some have claimed. Privatization would be that the state is going to sell off the parks. Amendment 2 does not, let me repeat, does not allow for privatization or selling off Alabama state parks.

Scott:

When you say “concessionaires” explain to the listeners what you’re talking about.

Sen. Scofield:

Well a concessionaire is for instance, we now have an attraction at Lake Guntersville State Park that’s a zipline attraction. Now, for us conservatives like Scott Beason this is about as good of a deal that you could ask for. We now have a zipline attraction at Lake Guntersville State Park but guess what? The state didn’t put up any money, the state assumes very little liability but the state gets a percentage of the profit off of it. So what’s that doing? That is another attraction that is available for the customers. It’s bringing more people in to Lake Guntersville State Park, increasing revenues and by the way, a lot of those people are coming from outside the state of Alabama. So what I’m trying to explain to people is this is a way that if we can invest in our state parks, if we can pass Amendment 2 that will allow investment in our state parks we can increase revenues in this state and not raise a dimes worth of tax.

Scott:

Hey Steve my producer has a question for you, Senator.

Steve:

I kind of want to build off of that because there’s just confusion in the wording there because this part that you’re talking about, the part that seems to be causing this confusion it’s talking about the “operation and management of non-state entities, hotels, golf courses, restaurants of any applicable state parks”. So we’re not talking about selling off the hotels we’re talking about allowing a private entity to manage it?

Sen. Scofield:

That is exactly correct. A lot of the people that are misconstruing this information or actually throwing this stuff out are not being truthful to the people of Alabama. Amendment 2 in no way shape or form allows privatization.

Scott:

We can’t get rid of the property but say you had the greatest company ever at running the golf course and they wanted to pay the state something to be able to run the golf course that’s already there is that the kind of situation that you’re talking about?

Sen. Scofield:

That’s exactly right. Now this is where we get into good business management. If the state does enter into concessionaires it has to go through a competitive bid process. There’s no “good old boy here”. I’m looking out for the people of Alabama, not the “good old boys” out there. They will have to submit proposals to the park system to run that golf course. If it’s not a good business plan the state is not going to take them up on it. If the state is making more money on what they could make through that concessionaire they’re not going to take them up on it. However, if the state is loosing money on that, they’re looking to close that and if someone comes forward that wants to operate it they can do so. So I would rather them closing that down that a concessionaire run it. A great example of this right now is Roland Cooper State Park. With all that talk of closing the parks, Roland Cooper State Park was one of the five state parks to close down in Alabama. But guess what? Now it is open and operated by a concessionaire and it is working perfectly and the local people there are continuing to see an economic impact there and are able to enjoy their park without it being closed.

Scott:

That’s a good point and its like everything as long as we have honest people overseeing these things that won’t be abused by a “good old boy” network. And sometimes you have to do what’s right and sometimes you have to trust people to do the right thing. Let me ask you the final question because we’re going to have to go to a break here in a second. What do you think happens if Amendment 2 does not pass?

Sen. Scofield:

I think there’s no question. We’re going to continue to see park facilities in decline. We’re going to continue to see the park system have to make very difficult choices that they do not want to make. In closing some of these parks some of these attractions that the people of Alabama enjoy that has a economic impact. Let me throw this number out at you. The state park system, essentially this money we’re talking about equals about $38 million dollars a year. Do you know what the annual economic impact of Alabama state parks has on the state of Alabama per year? $375 million dollars. So let’s revue that. So for the $38 million dollars we’re investing in our parks we’re realizing a $375 million dollar economic impact. Half of those people that come and visit our parks come from out of state so that is new money being infused into our economy without raising a dimes worth of taxes.

Scott:

Absolutely. Tourism is one of those things that’s like free money for the state. You and I both know that state parks, I wish made more tourism dollars but we’ll talk about that another day. Steve’s got another question.

Steve:

Senator Scofield, when it comes to dealing with state parks can you only do this through constitutional amendments or is there anything that the legislature could do outside of doing any constitutional amendments regarding state parks?

Sen. Scofield:

Well, you know they would have to stop transferring money out, you know? But again, this amendment will prevent that from happening in the future but the problem is you really have to understand how the park system works. We go back to the fact that the park system unlike other state agencies, makes money so it is ripe for the pickings. Because they’re looking at it like, “Oh here’s some money being generated, being created here. Let’s pull that and get some out.”

Scott:

Steve, they have the constitutional amendment to keep the legislators from passing budget items that would take the money from the state parks. It’s the only way to keep the legislators from continuing to dip into that trough and I have been there when after so many years of dipping in they come along and say, “Hey, we need to do a bond issue!”. Which means you and I have to pay the interest and all that kind of stuff because they did not keep up the facility. It’s the same thing for school buildings, etc., etc.. Government’s are lousy at maintaining their facilities because they know sometime in the future they can hit the taxpayers for a new one.

Steve:

I guess the thing that kind of brought up the question here, you had mentioned if the state votes “no” on this, that kind of made me wonder what if anything the Alabama legislature could do. I don’t know whether you happen to know this Senator Scofield, but do you by any chance know what the voting rate was as far as the support for putting this up on the ballot?

Sen. Scofield:

As far as the legislature? It was almost unanimous and it was bipartisan, both republicans and democrats. It had widespread support but hopefully the support is growing in the legislature for the parks which I believe it is. I believe that investment for the people of Alabama who spoke up and said, “We support our parks”. But if we can get Amendment 2 on the ballot then we can be assured that our parks are going to be in better financial shape for decades to come.

Scott:

Good point. Senator, I appreciate the call brother. Thanks for letting us know about Amendment 2.

Sen. Scofield:

Absolutely, thank y’all for having me and I just urge everyone to vote “yes” on Amendment 2 tomorrow. And let’s make Alabama state parks great again.