Erik Kulleseid photo Times Union
ALBANY, NY – December 21, 2010 – The newest program of the Open Space Institute has begun making progress as it increases awareness of New York’s celebrated state park system and its essential need for renewed funding.
The Alliance for New York State Parks' Director Erik Kulleseid was invited last week to testify before the Assembly Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports, an oversight committee that meets yearly to gauge spending trends and needs for state agencies under its supervision.
Kulleseid’s testimony focused on the fact that New York’s park system—well-known as one of the best in the country—has been sorely underfunded despite evidence that speaks strongly to the economic benefits of well-maintained and attended state parks. Kulleseid said that the Alliance looks forward to partnering with Governor-elect Cuomo and the State Assembly, and hopes state leaders will consider a dedicated revenue source to be used explicitly for park maintenance and operations needs statewide.
Excerpts of Kulleseid’s testimony appears below:
“New York's unbeatable system of state parks and historic sites is facing challenges like none it's ever seen before. And while our new governor will be asking all agencies, including Parks, to do more with less, and to build strategic partnerships with local governments, nonprofits and businesses to keep its doors open, it is also important that the state restore operating and capital funding to the system. To do so it should consider developing a dedicated funding stream to support the system.
The investment is worth it, because parks are economic drivers. A 2009 Parks & Trails New York study found that every dollar of state spending on parks generates $5 in private sector activity—in tourism and in the trades that support state park and historic site facilities. If that's not a wise investment in times of trouble, I don't know what is.”
Citing statistics from Protect Their Future: New York’s State Parks in Crisis, a report jointly issued by the Alliance and Parks & Trails New York, Kulleseid emphasized the effect of declining parks funding over not only the past decade, but the last two years in particular.
“While park closures were averted in the nick of time this spring (2010) by a last-minute budget infusion, it is being reported that a new round of park closures is happening quietly because the Office of Parks simply does not have the staff to keep parks open. This year's capital spending plan of $31 million is the lowest in the agency's history and will not allow it to address the capital projects backlog it is facing. The projected cost of health and safety system needs (water, sewer, electric systems) and deteriorating facilities is now looking at $1 billion in the rearview mirror!”
The Alliance hopes that incoming leaders in Albany recognize the critical importance of the park system to New Yorkers and consider innovative ways to finance park operations and capital projects.
Other state park systems have weathered the country's economic storm better than New York.
Montana and Washington state have imposed modest surcharges on car registrations to support parks, allowing motorists to opt out if desired. Minnesota voters approved a sales-tax supplement that is allowing the state to reinvest in its parks. Washington, DC imposes a 5-cent charge on disposable shopping bags given out by retailers, with funds going toward litter prevention and ecological restoration in the city's Anacostia district. That charge has had the double benefit of reducing plastic bag use (and landfill contribution) and supporting an underserved neighborhood. In New York, a 1 cent charge alone would raise some $60 million, according to projections. For pennies, if you will, New York could take a huge step toward saving its park system.
When asked whether a dedicated parks revenue stream would eventually be “swept” away from its intended target, much like the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) has in recent years, Kulleseid said that despite the negative impact of budget sweeps, the EPF has accomplished great things for the environment—more than was accomplished before its institution. A revenue stream for parks could have a similar effect, he said.
“While fully protecting a dedicated funding stream for parks would be difficult, the benefits would be tremendous—new revenue, of course, and the visibility it would create for parks would pay dividends for years.”