First let me congratulate Gov. Cuomo, the Assembly, the Senate and their administrative staffs for adopting the budget on time and reducing the tax burden on its citizens. As a small business, we really need the relief this can provide and it's a great first step in a very long process of returning New York to fiscal responsibility.
Several weeks ago sent out a blanket request for help with the difficult task ahead. With that thought in mind, in a recent conversation with Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, she mentioned a number of state-owned facilities that would appear to not fit with state government. Given the vast number of areas, the state must exercise control over some of the items on this list, but they just don't seem to fit in this era.
*29 golf courses
*52 swimming pools
*40 boat launch sites
All of the above are operated through the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Beaches and boat launch sites obviously require some form of control and are likely on state borders and in state parks, but it would seem that the state might be best served getting out of things like the golf courses, swimming pools, marinas and camp grounds. I would have to think that private operators would be better suited to either lease or purchase these facilities and let the state focus on more pressing issues.
I wondered how the state of New York got into the golf course business, and then I found that the history of James Baird State Park in Pleasant Valley, N.Y. is pretty typical. James Baird was a successful contractor who was also an avid golfer. He retired to a farm in the Hudson Valley in 1936, but when his health failed, he move to Arizona and donated his farm to the state of New York to be used as a recreational complex. In 1924, Franklin D. Roosevelt had been appointed chairman of the Taconic State Park Commission, where, among other duties, he guided construction of the Taconic Parkway that runs in front of Baird's farm. In 1940, construction of the state park was begun by FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps.
Of course, that was a very different time in New York, so I looked into a more recent golf course acquisition and found Indian Hills in Painted Post. Privately built in 1963, it went into bankruptcy in 2007. New York state acquired it and reopened in 2009. With five other golf courses within a 10-mile radius, one can only assume it went bankrupt because the other courses offered a better experience for the money. If a for-profit company can't make a success out of the course, I have serious doubts New York state would have much better luck. So why did the state purchase this golf course? Is it a necessity to the region that this course must be saved? Has the state turned a great profit margin at this and other courses?
How about swimming pools?
Community swimming pools make great sense for the community where the pool is located. If it is under the watchful eye of their stewardship, it makes perfect sense because it's for the benefit of their community members. Most of the state-owned pools are in state-operated parks and were likely built at a time when the average New Yorker could not afford a pool in their back yard, so these pools were wonderful resources to their communities and were cherished gifts by the state.
But given the current times, I have to wonder what is more important? Education, highways, law enforcement, and social services are all necessities Are they more important than golf courses, swimming pools and marinas, which are all leisure time activities?
New York must prioritize where it spends its money and how those expenditures affect the majority of New Yorkers. It won't happen overnight, but the state needs to begin the process of liquidating these facilities or leasing them to private operators for a sound profit or turning them over to local municipalities whose citizen stand to benefit from their use.
At a point in time, the state could afford to provide these types of facilities, but with the current state of the economy, it can no longer do so, especially if it is subsidizing their continued operations.
If New York state is out to save every community's valuable assets that are struggling, how far will they go? Will they purchase a local super market, gas station, liquor store, insurance company, or even a newspaper if they get into trouble down the road? These are all value assets to their communities, but isn't it better to let free enterprise dictate what is valuable and what is not?
Government control and ownership is not the answer to every problem.
Dan Alexander is publisher and owner of Denton Publications. He may be reached at email@example.com.