Monday, April 15, 2013

Show Me the Money - State Budget Process Underway

By Robert Dengel, Outdoor Advocate Volunteer

The various legislative budgets are beginning to being submitted. There are two types of budgets: 1) operating (day to day running of an agency) and 2) capital (construction and other development/conservation projects). While none of these initial proposals are likely to be the final budget, they do however begin to show everybody’s initial starting point. To overly generalize the budget proposals, the House Democratic Majority and the Governor are looking to avoid budget cuts by closing tax loopholes and extending taxes set to expire, a move the Senate Majority Coalition (Republicans and two Democrats) are opposed to. Please note that this year the Governor has provided a list of priorities rather than an entire budget proposal. The budgets (and priority list) are an opportunity for each of the major players to show where their priorities are by how much money they provide to an area.  So where does ensuring access and protection to the great outdoors land in the budgets?

State Parks 
The Senate Operating Budget identifies only $16.4 million of general funds in their budget for State Parks, this was done in part by sweeping funds from the Waste Reduction, Recycling and Litter Control Tax. The House Operating Budget, as well as the Governor’s priorities identifies $23.7 million of General Funds for State Parks.  Anything less than $23.7 million is expected to result in the closure of some State Parks, with $27.2 million needed to begin addressing maintenance backlogs, according to the Washington State Parks Commission.  State Parks reliance on state general funds is a result of lower than expected Discover Pass sales. This problem of funding for State Parks is highlighted in a recent story in the Olympian.

On a quick note: two Discover Pass bills which are begin tracked continue to move forward in the legislative process and remain in the House chamber for consideration. SB 5097 (Spouse combined hours) SSB 5289 (Revamps multiple aspect of the Discover Pass, including bulk sales). 

Dept. of Natural Resource and Dept. Fish and Wildlife Managed Lands
Both agencies appear to have received their usual amount of funding in each Senate and House Operating Budget to support recreation on the lands they managed, including funds from the Discover Pass.  

Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) 
The House Capital Budget provides $70 million for the WWRP grant program that funds parks and conservation throughout the state, based on a scored project list. The Governor wanted $76 million for WWRP in his priority list. The Senate Capital Budget only provides $40 Million for the WWRP project and did initially adhere to the scored project list. The current version of the Senate Capital Budget as passed out of the Ways and Means Committee does adhere to the project list but does not provide funding to WWRP land acquisition grants. Learn more at Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition.

The Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account (ALEA)
The ALEA grants exist to protect and enhance aquatic lands, including development of waterfront parks and restoration of estuaries. The House provides $12 million in their Capital Budget, while the Senate provides only $6 million on their Capital Budget. 

More information on the the state budget process can be found in the 2013 Citizen's Guide to the Washington State Budget.  You can view detailed budget proposals at the following links:

House Operating Budget: HB 1057
House Capital Budget: HB 1089

Senate Operating Budget: SB 5034
Senate Capital Budget: SB 5035

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