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PPFF once again speaks out in opposition to a raid of the Keystone and Environmental Stewardship Funds

November 17, 2020

November 17, 2020

To the Members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Governor Wolf:

On behalf of the 46 chapters of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation, as budget negotiations move forward, I urge you to protect Pennsylvania’s dedicated funds for conservation, specifically the Keystone Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund. As you will know from past letters from the Foundation, these funds are CRITICAL to the maintenance of our state parks and forests—the places where legions of Pennsylvanians have flocked during COVID-19.

The current budget proposal to transfer funds from the Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund is dangerous to the health and safety of Pennsylvanians and our state parks and forests. It undermines the economic well-being of communities and reduces jobs. The Foundation strongly opposes any movement to remove funds from the Keystone Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund.

In 1993, a portion of the realty transfer tax was dedicated to the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund and in 2002 landfill tipping fees were enacted to fund the Environmental Stewardship Fund. Both funds were established to reinvest in our communities, redress the environmental damage of the past, and conserve wildlife, parks, and preserves for generations yet to come. These funds, which had overwhelming bipartisan support, were also supported by the public. In fact, polling shows that the public continues to support investment in the maintenance of our public lands, as found in the 2018 Lion’s Poll administered for the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/Recreation/PAOutdoorRecPlan/Pages/default.aspx).

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.

The proposal to remove funds from the Keystone Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund overturns the agreement with the citizens of the commonwealth by removing funds from their intended purposes. This is DESPITE the long term track record of the programs, DESPITE the ever-increasing demand for funding, DESPITE the fact that most of the funds in these accounts are committed to projects, and DESPITE 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.

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 and the Environmental Stewardship Fund 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 and Environmental Stewardship Fund support 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 to make 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. Outdoor recreation generates $1.9 billion in tax revenue for the state … let me repeat that, outdoor recreation generates $1.9 billion in tax revenue. Why take measures to cut this predictable, steady revenue stream, 25% or so of which is generated by visitors to the commonwealth?

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. Our parks and forests have seen unprecedented use this year, as outlined in the following chart:

The Keystone Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund provide a level of financial certainty for planning for maintenance and infrastructure improvements. 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 these applications go unfunded, and those that 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 and up to standards.

There is strong, consistent public support for public investments in open space and recreation. Again, a vast majority 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.

Pennsylvanians enjoy their parks and forests, which not only create communities in which we want to live and attract business and visitors, but these places also 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/

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. When people shop for real estate, access to the outdoors is a driving force, particularly during a pandemic.

As a leader committed to the people of the commonwealth, we urge you to oppose any transfers from the Keystone Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund.  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 and the Environmental Stewardship Fund so that Pennsylvania can continue to be a leader in outdoor recreation and quality of life, while creating jobs and building the state’s economy.

Thank you for standing up for the future of Pennsylvania.

Marci J. Mowery, President

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