As most boaters know, Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed the elimination of the California Department of Boating and Waterways, and he wants to move the department’s functions and responsibilities to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
However, what nobody knew until March 7 was that there’s also a call for eliminating the loans the department currently provides to build and improve boating facilities across the state — using the Harbors and Watercraft Revolving Fund, paid for by boaters.
The California Legislature’s budget analyst has identified the program of loans to promote the construction and improvement of public and private marinas and launch ramps as a prime target for budget cuts. And if that happens, the fees that boaters pay to support this program would not appear to be destined to pay for anything else that is so directly boating-related.
According to a March 7 report in the Sacramento Bee, the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported to the California Legislature: “In 2012-13, proposed expenditures for these programs total $13.8 million from the Harbors and Watercraft Revolving Fund. We recommend that the Legislature consider whether these loan programs continue to be a state funding priority. Eliminating these programs would leave the lending function to the private sector.
“We note that the budgetary savings from the elimination of these programs would gradually decline over time, because one of the primary sources of funding for these programs is the repayment of the interest and principal on previously issued loans,” the report concluded.
So, let’s see if we understand this …
The program to fund the building and repair of recreational boating facilities across the state is entirely self-supporting — funded by fees that boaters pay, and interest payments that boating facility builders pay. It doesn’t cost the state one penny of General Fund dollars to run, and it actually turns a profit instead of taking the state further into the red.
The only possible reason for destroying this extremely successful program — one that has been held up as a shining example for other states who want to foster recreational boating — is to pick the pockets of boaters and deposit the funds that were promised to be spent on dedicated boating programs into the General Fund, to help stem future state budget deficits.
The taking of these funds is not only unfair to boaters, it is misappropriation. When a user fee or tax-supported fund is established for a specific purpose, our government officials should not simply be allowed to spend those dedicated funds on whatever whim they might have on a given day.
Imagine the outcry if the governor suddenly decided that our state’s public education budget would be eliminated to pay for a chain of state-run gambling casinos. However nice those casinos might be, and regardless of the all-you-can-eat buffet specials the casino’s restaurants might offer, they would be no substitute for providing an education for our children.
And however necessary it is to balance the state’s budget, taking boater-specific fees to pay for unrelated state projects can in no way substitute for the original goal of ensuring that adequate recreational boating facilities continue to be built and maintained in California.