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PA House Again Seeks to Capture Control of Keystone Fund

May 4, 2020

HB 2004 is set to be passed out of Committee tomorrow – May 5 – and will make its way to the full PA House of Representatives. This bill will ONCE AGAIN seek to remove control of the Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund. PPFF strenuously now and forever OPPOSES this proposal. Our letter, sent May 4, sets out the opposition.

On behalf of the 46 chapters of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation, I 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 1993, the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the general public, in an overwhelming referendum vote, established the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund. The Keystone Fund and its dedicated funding source, a 15% share of the state’s realty transfer tax, passed 48-0 in the Senate and 196-3 in the House. (Act 50 of 1993). Pennsylvania citizens strongly affirmed the General Assembly’s action, with 67% of voters voting to supplement the Keystone Fund’s permanent funding stream with $50 million in bond revenues.

In establishing the Keystone Fund, 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.

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).

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. The Keystone Fund and other dedicated programs provide a level of financial certainty. Now, more than ever, we are seeing the important role these places play for the citizens of the commonwealth. Physical, mental and emotional health all benefit from access to the outdoors which reduces health care costs, reduces work day loss, and improves the daily lives of Pennsylvania families.

HB 2004 creates unpredictable funding and stands to reduce funding for important programs. Unpredictable funding makes it difficult to plan for multi-year projects. 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 forests have a $1 billion need for maintenance and infrastructure improvements. Outdoor recreation is a $29 billion a year industry … yet we are failing to invest in it. This bill stands to continue to erode the very places that are bringing visitors to the commonwealth, thereby reducing the tax base.

The Keystone Fund was intentionally tied to the real estate market, as the market drives the need for recreation while having access to high quality of life drives the real estate market! The Keystone Fund, while experiencing some fluctuations due to housing markets, assures a certain amount to the programs it funds on an annual basis. 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. It substitutes political favoritism for the Fund’s needs-based allocation of financial resources.

The Keystone Fund leverages private funding, stretching the public dollar. Each dollar of Keystone Fund investment typically leverages $3.13 in direct local investments in our parks, trails, community green spaces, and libraries. The Keystone Fund creates jobs—the outdoor recreation industry supports more than 251,000 jobs in the state of Pennsylvania. When a local community receives a grant, they hire landscape designers, architects, contractors and more to implement the project. At a time when we need to be CREATING jobs, it seems counterintuitive that the general assembly would vote to reduce jobs.

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 benefittd 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.

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.

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

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