MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama voters on Nov. 8 will have their say on 14 proposed statewide amendments to the Alabama Constitution. Amendment 2 on the ballot aims to protect money for state parks by specifying that funds generated by — or tax dollars earmarked for state parks — cannot be diverted to other government functions. It would also allow private entities to run facilities at state parks.
Here’s a look at Amendment 2:
WHAT DOES THE AMENDMENT DO?
The amendment is designed to protect funding for Alabama’s 21 state parks. If approved, it would prohibit the transfer of money generated by state parks — as well as tax dollars earmarked for park maintenance — to other government functions. It would also allow non-state entities to run hotels, golf courses and restaurants at the state parks.
WHY IS IT NEEDED?
Park supporters pushed for the amendment after lawmakers diverted some money during tough budget years. According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, $15 million has been diverted since 2012. The park system last year announced plans to close five smaller state parks because of the budget difficulties, although most of those have reopened. Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein said the amendment would bring stability to the park system. “It will mean we can plan from one year to the next,” he said. IS THERE OPPOSITION?
The bill had lopsided support when it emerged from the Alabama Legislature. It was approved by the Senate in a 29-1 vote. It was approved in the House 87-8. Opponents argued that there might be better government uses for those dollars.
IS THIS A MOVE TOWARD PRIVATIZATION?
Outside entities are already allowed to run many facilities at state parks, included the state’s not yet built 350-room hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park. However, a previously approved bond issue for park renovation prohibited the state from using outside vendors at any facilities revamped with that bond money. Amendment 2 will undo the prohibition. Lein said, for example, outside zip line vendors and golf course operators have helped bring in traffic and revenue to state parks.
“It’s a tool in the toolbox,” Lein said of the use of outside vendors.
IS THE TRANSFER BAN PERMANENT?
No, transfers would be allowed in the future if guest revenue at parks ever exceeded $50 million in a year. That gives lawmakers the flexibility to divert funds if the state parks ever bring in large amounts of cash. With guest revenue currently running at $33 million a year, Lein said he thought it would be unlikely to hit that ceiling.