Talking Points – Defend PA’s Dedicated Environmental Funds
Every legislative session, there is at least one motion from members of the General Assembly to take money from the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund (Keystone Fund) and the Environmental Stewardship Fund (ESF). The premise is that making such appropriations won’t harm project investments, and the proposed budget action would only tap unneeded money that is just sitting around. This ill-considered notion misses fundamental issues:
- The Keystone Fund and ESF were established to fund projects that make lasting improvements in communities across the Commonwealth. Redirecting their funds to support government operations would seriously damage their reliability for achieving decade-long community and environmental improvements.
- The Keystone Fund and ESF are starving for funds. The funds struggle to meet the demands for project investments or the needs driving the demands — not even close.
- The Keystone Fund and ESF monies in state accounts are committed to projects. Capital projects, by their nature, can take a few years to complete. If the state were to redirect any of these committed monies into operations, the state would in fact be un-committing to the projects. Under future budgets, the state could recommit funds to those projects, but, in the meantime, communities would be placed in the difficult position of making major expenditures with hopes but no guarantees that the state will come through with money in the end. (If Harrisburg decides communities must take on this risk, the monies to be freed of commitment should at least be redirected to funding the large backlog of unfunded and underfunded Keystone Fund and ESF projects.)
The Keystone Fund and ESF were established with extraordinary bipartisan support in the General Assembly as well as in public referenda. The public’s enthusiasm continues to be overwhelming: 75% of Republican voters, 82% of Democrats, and 87% of independents support taxing themselves more to expand conservation funding. See the numerous public polls that demonstrate broad, bipartisan support for conservation funding. The Governor’s budget proposal threatens to upend decades of bipartisan consensus on the need to maintain the dedication of the Keystone Fund and ESF so that they may consistently invest in projects that deliver today and will continue delivering for future generations.
Funding for Lasting Improvements
- The Keystone Fund and ESF are the state’s workhorses for investing in projects that bring lasting benefits to communities across Pennsylvania. Among their many accomplishments, they’ve effectively and efficiently improved water quality, conserved lands important to local communities, and created outdoor recreation opportunities for visitors and tourists alike.
Helping Communities Help Themselves
- The Keystone Fund and ESF owe their success and longevity to their direct support of community-driven projects. The dedicated funds empower local people and the private sector to address problems at their source, not from afar in Harrisburg. Every dollar in state grants typically leverages at least $1 in other investments and usually the multiplier is much larger. The Keystone Fund alone has leveraged more than $1 billion in public/private partnerships to complete nearly 6,000 projects.
- Pennsylvania’s environmental funding needs are huge. Billions of dollars are needed in the coming years to address pressing water issues — from water quality investments needed for the Chesapeake and Pennsylvania’s other water basins to municipal stormwater management and flood reduction measures. Budget diversions would worsen the needs by taking money away from communities that are working to address stormwater, flooding, water pollution, and other environmental issues.
- The Keystone Fund delivers $7 in flood control and prevention, water treatment, and other natural services for every dollar invested. (See Pennsylvania’s Return on Investment in the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund and other studies about the economic benefits of conservation.) Now is the time to strengthen Pennsylvania’s dedicated environmental funds, so that they can deliver more, not less, in project investments.
- Beyond high-priority water issues, Pennsylvania’s parks, trails, and other outdoor recreational spaces all have pressing needs. A report by the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation identifies a billion dollars in deferred maintenance in our state parks and forests.
- The Keystone Fund and ESF come nowhere near to meeting present demand. Roughly half of all project investment proposals must be turned away. In the case of DCNR Keystone investments, 46% of projects are rejected for lack of sufficient state funds. And these rejections only represent a portion of unmet demand because grant applicants greatly self-limit their submissions knowing that competition for scarce dollars is fierce. Further, even for those projects funded, DCNR is only able to fund 85% on average of each request (and those requests already are generally limited to 50% of total project costs).
Operations Should Be Funded Through General Fund
- The Growing Greener Coalition respects that DCNR and DEP need money to operate. However, general government operations should be funded through the General Fund — not special funds dedicated to investing in projects and leveraging the incredible energy and resources existing in PA communities.