Methods of Privatization

Privatization in State Parks, Hospitals, and Prisons
PRS Briefs
PRS Policy Brief 1112-17
Friday, June 22, 2012

Most states began to develop a basic system of parks in the early 1920s. In the 1930s states grew these park systems into decidedly more substantial entities, largely through federal monies distributed as a part of the Roosevelt administration’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program. While the 1930s saw a vast increase in the number of state parks as well as the breadth of recreational services offered by the budding parks and recreation agencies, several state legislatures did not feel that such agencies were a legitimate function of state government. Maryland, Ohio, and South Dakota did not create a state park system until the 1940s; Arizona and Colorado waited until the 1950s to establish state parks, and North Dakota and Wyoming did not develop their state park systems until the 1960s. Many legislatures insisted that the operating expenses of state parks ought to be met, as far as possible, from user fees and concessions. From the outset of widespread state park systems in the 1930s, state parks were able to generate, on average, 40 percent of operating expenses.1 The earliest self-funding mandates, then, were largely a result of political ideology – namely, the question as to whether a state government could legitimately provide and fund park and recreation services through taxes.

State park systems have continued to self-generate approximately 40 percent of operating expenses through user fees and concessions. However, United States Census Bureau data shows that, in real dollar terms, while the aggregate budgets of states increased by 47 percent in the 1990s, expenditures on parks and recreation agencies only increased by 26 percent on average. Over this same period, full-time personnel decreased by four percent, and part-time personnel decreased by 32 percent.2 This decline in personnel mirrors an increase in deferred maintenance projects. That is to say, park systems are increasingly being tasked with doing “more for less” and with less people. Many states have implemented various policies to privatize parks or park management as a means of cutting costs and increasing quality.