ALBANY NY — February 26, 2014 —New Yorkers from across the state converged on the state capitol this week for the 8th annual Park Advocacy Day and also to urge policymakers to restore funding to the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), which has suffered deep cuts in recent years. Representatives from park friends groups, environmental organizations, local parks and educational organizations were all in attendance.
Park advocates urged state lawmakers to support Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $90 million $90 million capital investment in the state park system, increase operating funds for state parks and historic sites, and enhance the once-robust Environmental Protection Fund.
Thanks to the $200 million investment made by the state over the last two years the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) has been incrementally addressing an estimated $1 billion in infrastructure needs and critical safety repairs, breathing new life into an aging park system.
“Our state parks and historic sites are a public treasure of New York,” said Parks & Trails New York Executive Director Robin Dropkin. “We appreciate the Governor’s continued commitment to rejuvenating New York’s state parks and historic sites and we look forward to working with the state legislature to ensure that our parks receive the funding necessary for them to operate safely and effectively.”
“Never in the history of the state park system has there been this level of sustained investment to upgrade and restore New York’s state parks,” said Erik Kulleseid, executive director of the Alliance for New York State Parks, a program of the Open Space Institute. “These investments are transforming a once beleaguered system and restoring our greatest natural treasures as sources of pride, community vitality and economic strength.”
Funding for New York’s park system also creates strong local jobs and helps to grow the state’s economy while restoring and reinvigorating treasured state parks and historic sites. With more than 60 million people annual visitors, New York’s state parks and historic sites are primed to anchor the state’s regional tourism efforts, particularly in upstate communities.
According to a 2009 independent study commissioned by Parks & Trails New York, the state park system boosts the state’s economy to the tune of nearly $2 billion annually—a $5-to-$1 return on the state’s investment, while creating and sustaining 20,000 jobs exclusive of state parks employees. The study also shows that about 40 percent of total visitor spending comes from visitors living outside the communities in which the parks are located.
At the same time, the chairmen of the NYS Legislature’s Environmental Conservation Committees—Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, D-Lindenhurst, and Senator Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo—circulated letters this week urging their colleagues to add money to the EPF as they negotiate the budget and approve a final spending plan between now and the April 1 deadline. Recent statewide polling shows strong support for a significant increase in environmental spending this year, said the Friends of New York’s Environment, a coalition of more than 100 New York organizations.
The coalition called for a restoration of the EPF to $200 million, noting that the state budget has gone from a $10-billion deficit to a projected $2-billion surplus.
However, the Governor’s budget plan calls for an EPF of $157 million, up only $4 million from this year’s budget. That $4-million restoration was made possible by amendments to the state’s Bottle Bill in last year’s budget, passed in 2013, long before this year’s surplus was announced. The EPF stood at $250 million as recently as 2008-09.
Members of the coalition met with nearly 100 members of the legislature and their staffs to discuss how the Environmental Protection Fund benefits both the economy and the environment.
A recent public opinion survey shows that a majority of NY voters of diverse backgrounds and political party affiliations in every part of the state support enhancing the EPF. In the 20 years since the EPF was established, hundreds of communities across the state have realized the benefits of dedicated environmental spending, and this translates into strong support from local elected officials as well as the general public.
The majority of the EPF’s revenue comes from an existing Real Estate Transfer Tax, which is expected to generate more than $800 million in the current fiscal year, and grow to more than $1 billion over the course of the state fiscal plan’s five-year outlook. At the same time, the amount of RETT revenue needed to make the state’s annual payments on the 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act is decreasing by millions annually providing an opportunity to increase the EPF without increasing overall environmental spending.