Kentucky Governor Candidates Call for Park Private-Public Partnerships

Published October 6, 2015

Both major candidates running for governor of Kentucky are calling for the state to explore entering into public-private partnerships (P3s) to improve the quality of the state’s 49 parks and help close a looming $14 billion gap between state spending and revenue.

Speaking at the annual Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Candidates forum, Matt Bevin (R) and Jack Conway (D) said the idea of using public-private partnerships (P3s) to reduce the burden on taxpayers has merit.

“[There] are ways we could engage in public-private partnerships with the hospitality industry to do more in and around tourism and state parks,” Conway said.

Challenging the Status Quo

Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, says the candidates’ willingness to explore P3s as an option is encouraging.

“Just because government has always done this doesn’t mean it should always continue to do it,” Waters said. “Legislators or policymakers must be willing to look at every area of spending and be willing to try new and innovative ideas.”

Waters says if a policy isn’t working, lawmakers should not be afraid to change it in favor of new ideas.

“Government here has always run the state parks, but that doesn’t mean that’s the best way or that we have to remain stuck with a system that loses money and doesn’t work,” Waters said. “If something doesn’t work in the private sector, [and] if there aren’t changes made, companies go out of business. Unfortunately, with government … they just go back to the taxpayers for more money, but that’s not going to be a solution now with our budget situation.”

Holly Fretwell, a research fellow with the Property and Environment Research Center and adjunct economics instructor at Montana State University, says parks operated as P3s have a better incentive to satisfy visitors.

Changing Incentives

“We need to actually change the incentives to get better management, and that, in most cases, means decentralizing the management and giving park managers better incentives, giving them more flexibility, and making sure they’re accountable,” Fretwell said. “That is what we see when we look at the private sector: accountability.”

Privatized parks have more incentive to respond to what visitors actually want, Fretwell says.

“I think private parks have better incentives to manage financially and to be sure that they are meeting the desires of the visiting public,” Fretwell said. “You go out of business if you aren’t accountable to your consumers.”

Amelia Hamilton ([email protected]) writes from Traverse City, Michigan.

Internet Info:

Joseph W. Roggenbuck, et al., “Public-Private Partnership to Increase Commercial Tour Guides’ Effectiveness As Nature Interpreters,” Journal of Park and Recreation Administration: