On Halloween, Governor Malloy signed into law Connecticut’s $41.3 billion budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 (full budget summary from the Office of Legislative Research here). Given the notable signing date, you may be wondering whether there are more “tricks” or “treats” in the budget for your forests, parks, and trails. Not surprisingly, there are a bit of both.
Passport to the Parks: Starting on January 1, 2018, all Connecticut residents will get access to state parks without paying a parking fee. The loss of parking fee revenue is made up through a $10 DMV vehicle registration charge paid every other year by all CT residents that will raise ~$13 million per year for the operations and maintenance of state parks. More sustainable funding through the Passport should allow DEEP to reopen the four campgrounds that have been closed for the past two years, restore basic public services such as lifeguards at swimming areas, and stabilize the Parks budget, which has been cut nearly every year for a decade. Out of state visitors will continue to pay parking fees, and the Charter Oak Pass, which has provided free parking for adults aged 65 and older, will continue to benefit seniors with free admission to Dinosaur and Fort Trumbull State Park Exhibit Centers, as well as free tours of Gillette Castle State Park (the fees at these three parks are considered to be admissions fees and not parking fees so they are not waived by the Passport).
CEQ Survives: In the months leading up to the final budget resolution, the CT Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) had been proposed for severe reductions or total elimination, and we were pleased to see CEQ included in the final budget at level funding.
Community Investment Act Funds Reduced: A sweep of $5 million from the Community Investment Act into the General Fund in both FY 2018 and 2019 does hurt the ability of the CIA to fund open space, farmland protection, historic preservation, and affordable housing projects. However, earlier budget proposals included sweeps of 50% -100% and this level of sweep is a significant improvement. It will be an ongoing fight to protect the CIA funds which are generated from a $40 recording fee collected on every real estate transaction, but we are thankful that so many Legislators have made the CIA a funding priority.
No Bonding for Recreational Trails & Greenways: A major disappointment in the budget is that it did not restore bond funding for Connecticut’s Recreational Trails & Greenways program, which funds trail projects statewide on state lands and through grants. The final $5 million that had been authorized for recreational trail projects was eliminated in the May 2016 special legislative session as part of $1 billion in bond authorizations cut across all state agencies. This essential source of support for recreational trails statewide is a top priority for CFPA, the CT Greenways Council, and others to get restored in 2018.
No New Bonding for Open Space or State Land Acquisitions: There were no new authorizations included in the budget for either the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition (OSWA) or the Recreation & Natural Heritage Trust (RNHT) Programs. However, some authorized but not yet allocated bonding remains for each program, and we hope the State Bond Commission will choose to allocate these funds in the future.
This long, bruising budget negotiations process was proof positive (once again) that your contacts to your Legislators and the Governor make a difference. Thank you for getting engaged to protect your forests, parks, and trails!
If you have questions about any of these issues, please contact CFPA's Executive Director, Eric Hammerling, via firstname.lastname@example.org.