Decades of underinvestment has taken a severe toll on the condition of New York’s 213 state parks and historic sites. Over the past 18 months, OSI’s Alliance for New York State Parks program has been making the case for a new commitment to restoring our, once great, state park system. It was great news when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that his proposed budget in included $89 million to repair and restore 47 state parks and historic sites. This new funding commitment is a tremendous first step in rebuilding our parks.
On February 7, the Alliance’s executive director, Erik Kulleseid, appeared before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee testifying in support of the governor’s proposed budget. His complete testimony appears below.
ALBANY, NY – February 7, 2012 –Senate Finance Chair DeFrancisco and Assembly Ways & Means Chair Farrell, thank you for the opportunity to be with you today to discuss Governor Cuomo's proposed budget for state parks for Fiscal Year 2012-13.
Thank you also Senator Little and Assemblywoman Markey, Chairs of the Tourism Committees, and Senator Grisanti and Assemblyman Sweeney, Chairs of the Environmental Conservation Committees, as well as other committee members here today.
My name is Erik Kulleseid, and I am the Executive Director of the Alliance for New York State Parks, an initiative of the Open Space Institute, one of New York's leading land conservation nonprofits.
The mission of the Alliance is to protect and enhance New York's state parks and historic sites for present and future generations. Support for the Alliance comes from the Open Space Institute, the Dyson Foundation, Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky and other generous donors.
In addition to championing the cause of state parks in the public arena, the Alliance supports the activities of state park and historic site Friends Groups and aims to assist the system by securing public and private financial support. To that end, we remain grateful to members of the legislature who have proven their strong support for state parks in many ways over the course of the last several years.
Our testimony here today is a dramatic contrast to the budget testimony I offered last year. Specifically, the Alliance is extremely gratified that the executive budget responds to the poor and deteriorating condition of New York’s state parks and historic sites by providing $89 million from the New York Works Fund. The budget proposal offers a first step in reversing decades of decline for our once great state park system.
State parks and historic sites are critically important to protecting New York’s natural resources and providing recreational and cultural experiences to the public. In providing this funding, Governor Cuomo has recognized that New Yorkers deserve parks they can be proud of, rather than a shabby system defined by failing bathrooms and bridges, crumbling trails and stonework and outdated water and electrical systems.
It is equally gratifying that by including parks in the New York Works Fund, Governor Cuomo recognizes that investing in parks makes good economic sense – both in terms of drawing important tourism dollars and in supporting local jobs and businesses.
By providing long-overdue maintenance, repairs and upgrades to these destinations, this investment will translate into a boost for local construction and engineering jobs.
Much of the $33 million slated for state parks and sites in the Hudson Valley will fund major repair projects that had been put on the back burner for years, if not decades.
- Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks, which welcome a combined 3.2 million people a year will finally be able to fix their outdated water and sewer systems;
- the heavily used pool complexes at FDR State Park in Westchester and Rockland Lake State Park will receive long-postponed repairs and upgrades; and
- the crumbling Mills Norrie mansion state historic site will be able to remove the protective netting and barriers put in place to prevent pieces of the façade from falling on visitors as they approach the building.
While we are excited about the $89 million commitment to repair and upgrade 48 state parks and sites, it is important to note that the agency still has a capital backlog totaling more than a billion dollars, of which $461 million is associated with basic health and safety projects and $595 million with deteriorated and worn out facilities.
In addition, while this year’s budget by-and-large holds the agency harmless from another round of budget cuts, like other areas of state government, State Parks has seen its operations budget cut by more than twenty percent over the past four years. Of particular concern are park police staffing levels.
It is to the great credit of Commissioner Rose Harvey that she has effectively confronted the new reality – committed to rethinking the way the agency functions. She has embraced Alliance fundraising efforts; supported the idea of repurposing unused state park assets, where appropriate; partnered with local governments and not-for profits; and seized on opportunities to promote more public-private partnerships.
Even with Governor Cuomo’s $89 million commitment and Commissioner Harvey’s new energy and approach, the long-term stability of New York’s 213 state parks and historic sites remains at risk.
While we can look to private philanthropy and corporate partnering to be part of the long-term solution, a greater, long-term vision is needed to restore the majesty to our state park system. The Alliance continues to back the creation of a dedicated funding stream in support of state park capital needs. One such long-term solution we are advocating would generate more than $70 million annually by placing a small, avoidable fee on disposable paper and plastic bags used by supermarkets and retailers.
This “Pennies for Parks” initiative would continue to fund repairs and upgrades to failing parks infrastructure, reduce bag usage and cut down on litter and the landfill burden.
In closing, let me reiterate the Alliance’s strong support and appreciation for the $89 million in state parks infrastructure funding included in the executive budget. I am reminded that just two short budget cycles ago, members of the committees were, appropriately, asking then Commissioner Carol Ash, for a list of a proposed park closures. Sadly, state park closures continue to be part of the national dialogue, most notably in California.
It is a remarkable turn-of-events and a testament to Governor Cuomo’s commitment to restoring New York’s state parks that this year, instead of fearing park closures and continued service reductions, we await details of which state parks will benefit from an infusion of infrastructure investment.
As park supporters and champions – we see a bright future for our state parks and historic sites and, again, thank you for your sustained interest and support for our state parks and historic sites. Thank you.
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