HB 2004, dangerous to the health and safety of Pennsylvanians and our state parks and forests is set to move through the PA House. PPFF’s opposition letter was sent to members of the House this morning:
On behalf of the 46 chapters of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation, I again urge you to protect Pennsylvania’s dedicated funds for conservation by opposing House Bill 2004, which removes the automatic allocation of funds from the realty transfer tax to the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund.
In establishing the Keystone Fund (Act 50 of 1993, which passed with overwhelming support in both the House and Senate, and was approved by the public), the General Assembly sought to create a dedicated and permanent funding source for making investments in recreation, parks, conservation, libraries, historical preservation, and education. This fund has a 26 year legacy of success that has benefited all Pennsylvanians.
HB 2004 overturns the agreement with the citizens of the commonwealth by removing automatic allocation of the funds away from the agreed upon agencies and placing control with the General Assembly. This is DESPITE the long term track record of the program, the ever increasing demand for funding, and the public’s unwavering support for ensuring that their public spaces are taken care of by the professionals tasked with that specific role.
We have heard from some legislators that the state needs the funds—we would argue that parks and forests are part of the state, and that during COVID-19, visitation to community and state parks and forests has exploded as people look for inexpensive ways to reduce stress, exercise, and reconnect to family. By investing in our parks and forests, you are investing in the health and well-being of the citizens of the commonwealth.
Furthermore, by investing in our parks and forests, you create jobs through the thousands of small businesses that provide the labor and expertise to take projects to completion – think invasive species contractors, wildland fire (aviation) support, surveyors, landscapers, architects, engineers, planners, drafters, geologists, archaeologists, manufacturers (playground equipment, picnic tables, fire rings, swimming pools, water/sewage components), lumber yards and building materials suppliers, hardware stores, painters, contractors, builders, heavy equipment operators, chemical companies, equipment rental businesses, planners, designers, aggregate and paving companies, roofing contractors, fencing installers, tradespeople (electricians, plumbers, carpenters). By removing the funds, you reduce opportunities for employment across the state and for many in the rural economies of Pennsylvania. At a time when we NEED jobs, it is counterintuitive to reduce employment opportunities.
The Keystone Fund supports the quality of life that makes Pennsylvania a great place to live, work and play. Those same qualities attract businesses to Pennsylvania—an educated populace (schools, libraries, historic preservation), and access to open space and outdoor recreation (parks, forests and recreation). We ask, why deteriorate quality of life at a time when we need it not just for physical, mental and emotional health (which reduces health care costs and reduces work day loss) but also makes Pennsylvania more attractive to businesses looking to relocate to the commonwealth?
Pennsylvania ranks 5th in the nation in consumer spending as it relates to outdoor recreation BECAUSE we invest in our state and local parks and forests. That is more than $29 BILLION a year, which supports more than 250,000 jobs – jobs that Pennsylvania needs, even more so today.
The Keystone Fund and other dedicated programs provide a level of financial certainty. HB 2004 creates unpredictable funding and stands to reduce funding for important programs. Unpredictable funding makes it difficult to plan for multi-year projects. HB 2004 substitutes political favoritism for the Fund’s needs-based allocation of financial resources.
Currently, there is more demand than funds available for the grants administered by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Many of applicants go unfunded, and those who are selected may not receive the full amount needed due to insufficient funds. Our state parks and forest currently have a $1 billion need for investment to keep them safe.
We have heard from some legislators that the program is 26 years old and therefore needs to be updated. Why? It isn’t broken—it is a successful program contributing to the creation of jobs and protecting human health and safety.
Polls show strong, consistent public support for public investments in open space and recreation. A recent Penn State poll (http://www.paoutdoorrecplan.com/) found that 97.4% 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.
More than three-quarters of Pennsylvania citizens believe that parks, trails, and open spaces are an essential part of our healthcare system. Additionally, in the same survey, a majority of respondents believe that the state should INCREASE permanent funding for park and recreational opportunities.
The proposal in HB 2004 eliminates this certainty and eliminates the percentage allocated, which means in any given year funds could be withheld or directed away from certain programs.
Pennsylvanians enjoy their parks and forests, which not only create communities in which we want to live and that attract business and visitors, these places protect human health, and serve many other functions. the Keystone Fund Projects that have benefitted your district are shown on this spreadsheet: https://keystonefund.org/find-keystone-projects/
As a leader committed to the people of the commonwealth, we urge you to oppose HB 2004. All Pennsylvanians benefit from these funds—through clean water and air, through vibrant communities that are attractive places to live and work, through access to literacy and heritage, and by engaging people in the outdoors which improves human health.
We URGE you to protect the Keystone Fund so that Pennsylvania can continue to be a leader in outdoor recreation and quality of life.
Thank you for standing up for the future of Pennsylvania!
Marci J. Mowery, President