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.