The undersigned organizations strongly oppose proposals that would politicize the charitable nonprofit and philanthropic community by repealing or weakening current federal tax law protections that prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing, opposing, or contributing to political candidates.
The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association sent the following letter to the state senate on Monday, September 18th. We urge you to contact your Senator immediately to oppose any cuts to conservation funds.
I write to you on behalf of the 75 member organizations of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association and their 120,000 contributors.
As you revisit revenue plans for the 2017-18 budget, the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association encourages you to keep the following in mind regarding the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund—funds that create exemplary public-private partnerships:
- Demand far exceeds the availability of dollars. The acute shortage of funds for good projects is why many Senators support renewing the ESF/Growing Greener.
- There are no surpluses in these funds. Both Senate and House leaders (or, for that matter, the present and past Administrations) would have identified and taken any true surpluses long ago!
- House Taxpayer Caucus members mistook balances in bank accounts as accumulated surpluses. The reality is that these balances are fully committed to community grant projects and State Parks and Forest infrastructure projects administered by DCNR; community library improvements; abandoned mine drainage remediation; and many other projects that keep Pennsylvania a great place to live and work.
- Keystone and ESF grant projects are exemplary public-private partnerships:
- Projects compete against one another for funding with the agencies ranking them and making awards using transparent criteria.
- Communities bring private, local, and federal match dollars to projects—for example, $3.31 leveraged in local investment for every Keystone Fund dollar spent.
- The projects address a myriad of public needs that would otherwise place direct demands on government services.
- The state investments create and support private jobs—engineers, architects, and other specialists designing park and facilities, trails, riparian buffers, abandoned mine land restorations, library rehabilitations, and other facilities; construction workers to build these improvements; outfitters; concessionaires; and many more workers.
- The funds deliver extraordinary economic returns to the Commonwealth—with Keystone for example, every dollar invested returns $7 in flood control and prevention, water treatment, and other natural services. These returns are above and beyond the jobs, tourism, improved tax base, and other economic benefits generated.
- The Commonwealth cannot achieve prosperity by cutting investments that bring lasting improvements and benefits to communities in all of Pennsylvania’s counties.
- Polls show strong, consistent public support for these investments. A recent Penn State poll found that 97.4% of Pennsylvanians think that state funds dedicated to protecting rivers and streams; conserving open space, forests, natural areas, and wildlife habitats; providing parks and trails; and preserving farmland should continue to be used for these purposes. The people of Pennsylvania clearly feel that the dedicated funds deliver value and must not be diminished.
Thank you for your consideration.
Andrew M. Loza
Pennsylvania Land Trust Association
119 Pine Street, 1st floor
Harrisburg, PA 17101
A group of House Republicans have proposed taking “unused” account balances from the the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, the Environmental Stewardship Fund (Growing Greener), and farmland preservation, their selling point being that they can do this without actually hurting projects. Close scrutiny of the grant programs and farmland preservation system shows that it just doesn’t work. You can’t strip money from the dedicated funds without causing harm. Nevertheless, the idea that they can divert this dedicated money to state general operations without causing damage is mightily attractive to legislators who are looking for money under every stone. It’s absolutely critical that legislators hear from many voices opposing this latest proposal.
Please call your state representatives—the sooner the better, preferably today and Friday morning.
In stark contrast to the proposal in the House, the funding needs for high-quality community conservation, park, and farmland preservation projects actually far outstrip the available funds. Likewise, there is a huge backlog of needed State Park and Forest improvements. There is an unambiguous shortage of dedicated fund dollars. Essentially every existing dollar is committed and more are actually needed.
The consequences of stripping these dedicated funds as proposed include but aren’t limited to the following:
- Park and conservation projects that have gone through this year’s competitive application review cycle—and which in many cases have taken years to bring to fruition—will not receive state funding.
- Municipalities and charitable organizations that have received grant awards from the state may not be reimbursed for their project expenses (The dedicated funds operate on a reimbursement basis, paying on prior grant commitments after the grantees have incurred their expenses. These reimbursements come from the Treasury accounts from which the proposal would strip money.) A grant contract with the Commonwealth would no longer have legitimacy. (This may be a matter ripe for litigation.) Some projects can take a few years to responsibly bring to completion and final payment-processing by the state; these projects should not be threatened with defunding simply because it takes time to do the work right.
- Counties may be forced to renege on preservation contracts with farmers, sticking farmers with costs they incurred to prepare their farms for protection.
The Commonwealth cannot achieve prosperity by cutting investments that bring lasting improvements and benefits to communities in all of Pennsylvania’s counties.
The investments made by the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, Growing Greener, and farmland preservation are proven to bolster the economy. For example, a study on the Keystone Fund found that for every $1 invested in land and water conservation, $7 in natural goods and services is returned to Pennsylvania. Several county governments have recently examined the connection between conservation and their economic well-being and found tremendous returns on conservation investments. You can view many of these studies at http://conservationtools.org/conservation-benefits
Polls show strong, consistent public support for these investments. A recent Penn State poll found that 97.4% of Pennsylvanians think that state funds dedicated to protecting rivers and streams; conserving open space, forests, natural areas, and wildlife habitats; providing parks and trails; and preserving farmland should continue to be used for these purposes. The people of Pennsylvania clearly feel that the dedicated funds deliver value and must not be diminished.
- Call (Harrisburg offices) and email your State Representative, Senator, and the Governor NOW and SUNDAY, and urge them to OPPOSE any transfers from the Keystone Fund, Growing Greener or farmland preservation to balance the budget.
- Get on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and spread the message that these funds must be protected. Tag your legislators – let them know you are watching what happens. (#SavePA, #PABudget)
- Do the same via email.
- Personally reach out to those you know who have relationships with legislators and the Governor. Ask them to make calls.
PA Representative Cutler of Lancaster County soon will introduce legislation that would direct a portion of PA farm preservation funding to land trusts for purchase of agricultural conservation easements.
Please ask your representative to co-sponsor Rep. Cutler’s bill.
Rep. Cutler’s memorandum asking for co-sponsors is provided below.
Land trusts would be expected to use the state funds to leverage private contributions on a 50-50 basis in order to increase the effectiveness of state investments in farm preservation. The current proposal would dedicate $2,500,000 a year to this initiative as well as $500,000 to land trusts for reimbursement of transaction expenses of up to $10,000 for each qualifying ag easement project (up from the present $5,000 limit). Land trusts would apply directly to the state board for funding but would have to coordinate purchase activities with their county agricultural land preservation board.
The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association supports Rep. Cutler’s effort as does the PA Farmland Preservation Association (which is made up of county agricultural land preservation administrators).
Please take a moment to support farmland preservation and the land trust community. Call or email your representative as soon as possible.