Sunday, September 10, 2017

PA Land Trust Assn: Oppose House GOP Efforts To Strip Money From Environmental Funds

Members of the PA Land Trust Association Thursday expressed their opposition to a proposal by House Republicans to take money from several state funds by writing a letter to House members urging them not to “strip money” from environmental funds and outlining the consequences to communities and farmers.  The text of the letter follows--
On behalf of the 75 member organizations of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association and their 120,000 contributors, I urge you to resist proposals that would divert funds dedicated to enhancing the health and prosperity of our Commonwealth.
Detailed research and analysis reveals that money cannot be stripped from the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, the Environmental Stewardship Fund (Growing Greener), and farmland preservation without devastating consequences.
We respect efforts to find efficiencies wherever possible in state government, but close scrutiny of the numbers and the process for using these funds makes it clear that you cannot take money from these dedicated funds without harming individual projects supported by the funds.
As things now stand, the funding needs for high-quality community conservation, park, and farmland preservation projects 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.
We request your leadership in opposing cuts that reduce or eliminate dedicated funding to projects that safeguard our water and health; create vibrant, family-friendly communities; and protect our local economies and heritage.
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 online.
Polls show strong, consistent public support for these investments. A recent Penn State poll found that 97.4 percent 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
Executive Director, PA Land Trust Association
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