Raiding Special Funds is Counterproductive
to a Prosperous Pennsylvania
A recent plan introduced by the Taxpayers Caucus in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives proposes looting funds dedicated for community improvements-and dumping the take as mere fill into a budgetary cavity.
The Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund and the Growing Greener Environmental Stewardship Fund are dedicated resources that protect our natural and built environments, leverage local investments, and create and sustain Pennsylvania jobs. Repurposing them is wrong and reckless.
While we respect the need and effort to find fiscal efficiency in governmental operations, the Taxpayers Caucus's rationale is based on a faulty premise. "Claims that cuts to dedicated funds would not impact programs or jobs are inaccurate," declares Cindy Dunn, Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). "Removing money from these special dedicated funds would mean postponing and cancelling projects to help Pennsylvania communities and public lands-without the use of general operating dollars." The $145 million dollars the Taxpayers Caucus claims is "surplus" is already committed to hundreds of local projects, most of them years in preparation.
These investments in communities' connectivity, vitality and livability most often also leverage local funds, in effect doubling the capital infused into the local economy-in design, construction, and other jobs and services. In fact, a study on the Keystone Fund demonstrated that those tangible benefits extend much further: for every dollar invested in land and water conservation, seven dollars in goods and services is returned to the economy.
Grants from these funds are not WAM or "walking around money" to be distributed at lawmakers' discretions. They are awarded through a competitive process that brings the greatest impacts to the greatest needs. Eliminating them would have an immediate dampening consequence rippling through Pennsylvania's economy-just the opposite of what the Caucus itself wants.
Not only are these funds crucial to address the needs of improving people's lives where they live and work and raise their families-be it through public parks and forests, green infrastructure, libraries, or agricultural and historical preservation-they are woefully inadequate to the need. On average, these public funds can meet only about half of what is annually requested.
Clearly, the foresighted establishment of these funds represent a best practice in public fiscal management: dedicated for the public good, administered through an open, competitive, and transparent process, and protected from outside tampering and interference. We must not, for our own collective good, raid these funds in a shortsighted attempt to strike "budget passed" off the to-do list.
Moreover, while the Taxpayer Caucus may seek to dismiss attempts to protect these special funds, their proposal clearly conflicts with the desires of the taxpaying public. A 2014 survey associated with the state's Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan found that a majority of respondents believe the state should increase its permanent source of funding for park and recreation opportunities. And a Penn State poll found that 90.7 percent of Pennsylvanians surveyed would support increasing state funds to conserve and protect open space, clean water, natural areas, wildlife habitats, parks, historic sites, forests, and farms.
We recognize the depth and complexity of solving Pennsylvania's budgetary problems, and we appreciate those who work toward solving them. Unfortunately, the Taxpayers Caucus proposal is neither a solution, nor acceptable.
Tim Herd, CPRE, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society. The Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society is the principal statewide association providing professional development, leadership, advocacy and resources for those working and volunteering in the parks and recreation field.