Monday, September 11, 2017

Analysis: Why Everyone Else Says There Are No Unused Environmental Funds, Except Some House Republicans

Much of the over three hours of debate on the Republican budget plan Wednesday night was over whether any of the $630.5 million (over $317 million from environmental and energy funds) was actually real “unused” or “reserve” funds that could be taken without harming the underlying programs.
Everyone who is anyone-- except some House Republicans-- all said the money was NOT real.  
The 103 Republicans who voted to pass the budget plan all sided with the fake money crowd and are each responsible for cutting over $3 million from environmental and energy programs.
For those who doubt where the House Republicans are really coming from, this quote from one member made it very clear-- “We’re erasing 30 years of a lot of peoples’ work around here, and I’m sure a lot of people are upset about that.”
Here are several very practical reasons why there aren’t “unused” or “slush” funds--
1. Monies Have To Be Spent For The Purposes Outlined In Law: Each of the environmental funds was created by law for a purpose and the individuals, businesses and local governments contributing to those funds through permit fees or special assessments want those monies to be spent in specific ways and not lost in the General Fund. As a result, the laws creating the funds spell out specifically what they are to be used for and almost all funds require a local match by communities-- the original public-private partnerships-- if they fund community environmental projects. I should know, because I’ve been involved, one way or another, in enacting every major state environmental law over the last 34 years. The fact is, there are no “slush funds” or “reserves” and these monies cannot be legally used for purposes for which they were not intended by law.
2. Funds Have To Be In Interest-Bearing Accounts At Treasury: The laws creating the environmental funds I am familiar with require monies in those funds to be held in interest-bearing accounts by the State Treasurer.  That’s just good money management.  The fact there are these accounts at the Treasury has no relationship to the status of the funds.  The fact is, there are only two kinds of money in environmental special funds that fund community projects or cleanups-- monies committed to pay already approved grants or contracts to vendors and contractors for projects that may last 2 or 3 years or monies available for new grants or projects.  The fact is, the proposed raid on these funds will, without question, affect one or both of these kinds of monies.
3. Secretaries Want To Fund The Maximum Number Of Projects Possible: It is the natural inclination of any agency Secretary and any Governor to want to get the most money they are appropriated by the General Assembly out the door to fund the most community environmental projects within the limits established by law for these funds-- I certainly did when I was DEP Secretary.  And many of those projects are requested by Senate and House members.  The fact is, at Senate and House budget hearings every year, the current DEP and DCNR Secretaries are frequently asked if they are using one or more of their special funds as effectively as they can.  The fact is, if I, or any Secretary, thought there was “unused” money approved to be spent by my agency, it would be out the door fast, many times to fulfill a request by a legislator.
4. How Could Advocacy Groups Have Possibly Missed This?  Groups advocating for funding  one or another kind of community environmental projects almost all have former DEP or DCNR officials working with them with a lifetime of experience working in these programs.  They would be very vocal about lobbying agencies and the General Assembly to spend any “unused” or “reserve” funds on community projects, if that money existed or was building up.  The fact is, that has not been the case and the fact these groups are saying there are no unused funds should carry weight.
5. Cuts To DEP’s Budget Have Forced Spending Every Nickel: The 40 percent cut in General Fund support and 25 percent reduction in DEP’s staff over the last decade have forced the agency to use every nickel they can, especially from special funds, to keep their critical environmental protection programs running.  Most funds have limits on their use for administrative costs, but you can bet the agency is right up against those limits.  Even trying to make up those funds with cuts to programs, staff and permit fee increases, DEP is still behind.  The fact is, there is a growing list of DEP programs-- like the one protecting our drinking water-- that don’t even meet minimum federal standards any more because of these cuts.
The fact is, there are no unused or reserve monies in environmental funds.
You can choose to believe a handful of House Republicans, or everyone else.
Here’s everyone else--

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