Don’t Raid Environmental Funds to Balance Budget

Don’t Raid Environmental Funds to Balance Budget

 

Governor Tom Wolf and legislative leaders are now negotiating the commonwealth budget. An agreement is expected soon. Unfortunately, they are seriously considering removing tens of millions of dollars from important environmental funds to balance the budget. This would be both unwise and unnecessary.

In February, Gov. Wolf outlined his fiscal year 2019-20 commonwealth budget proposal. It includes the transfer of over $15 million from the Environmental Stewardship Fund, $30 million from the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, $10 million from the Recycling Fund, and almost $70 million from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund. These monies would be used to pay for general governmental operations in the upcoming fiscal year. Despite significant opposition, these transfers are still on the negotiating table. 

The Environmental Stewardship Fund (commonly known as Growing Greener) was established in 2002 and receives revenues from landfill fees. It provides monies for farmland preservation, open space protection, abandoned mine reclamation, watershed protection and restoration, water and sewer infrastructure and community parks and recreational facilities.

The Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund was established in 1993 and receives revenues from the realty transfer tax. It provides monies for state and local parks, recreation facilities, historic sites, zoos, public libraries, nature preserves and wildlife habitats.

The Recycling Fund was established in 1988 and receives revenues from a fee on waste disposal. This fund supports municipal recycling programs by helping to pay for recycling trucks, processing equipment, staff salaries, composting programs and consumer education.

Oil and Gas Lease Fund was created in 1955 and receives revenue from oil and gas drilling on commonwealth land. The fund was created to finance conservation, recreation, dams and flood control projects. A 2017 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision prohibits using revenue from this fund for any purpose other than conservation. Budget negotiators appear to be ignoring this court decision.

These four programs provide an immense benefit to the commonwealth. They can ill-afford money being taken from them.

None of these programs comes anywhere near funding all of the worthy projects for which it receive applications. There currently is a billion-dollar need for state park and forest infrastructure investment in Pennsylvania, according to a recent Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation report.

These fund transfers are opposed by a wide variety of environmental, conservation, sportsman, municipal and recycling groups, including the Growing Greener Coalition, Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania, and County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

Moreover, there is no need to take monies from these funds. Last month, the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office projected an $860 million budget surplus for this fiscal year. Monies to balance the 2019-20 budget should come from the commonwealth’s General Fund – not these special environmental funds.

State Representative Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery, represents the 166th Legislative District. E-mail: gvitali@pahouse.net