Under the Governor’s budget for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the five primary conservation agencies receive a general fund cut of $28.846 million or a reduction of 11.55 percent from the forecasted base. Conservation agencies receive $4.2 million of state agency spending increases totaling $28 million. After accounting for these increases, the net reduction to conservation agencies is 10 percent. Transit and conservation are the only major areas of government that receive cuts in excess of 8 percent of forecasted base. Higher education receives a 6 percent cut, and all other areas receive cuts of 5 percent or less.
Conservation agencies appear to receive greater general fund cuts because they have other statutorily dedicated funds. However, some conservation agencies received disproportionate cuts even though they do not have access to such funds. Moreover, the fees proposed by the Governor to make up for reductions may not be enacted and may lead state agencies to use Legacy Funds to backfill cuts.
It is not clear that the constitutional requirement that Legacy Amendment Funds supplement traditional funds is met if one traditional source of funding (the general fund) is disproportionately cut.
According to the Governor’s budget documents, the general fund cuts include in the following reductions, among others:
• A 50 percent reduction in control of invasive plants on state land
• Reductions in mercury monitoring in fish
• Reductions in water permitting and monitoring
• Reduced hours and shorter seasons for some state parks
• Overall 16% reduction in funds for operating and maintaining regional metro parks
This year, the Governor’s budget does not include raids on statutorily dedicated funds, such as direct fees, and, in fact, includes a provision that will pay back a previous raid on the Closed Landfill Fund beginning in 2015. In addition, the bonding bill proposed by the Governor leaves room for the addition of an appropriate level of conservation projects.
In allocating Legacy Amendment Funds, the Governor recommends that Parks & Trails Fund dollars be divided 42 percent each to State Parks and Trails and Metro Parks, and 16 percent to the regional parks and trails grant program. The slight increase for regional parks and trails is a positive development. The Governor’s Clean Water Fund recommendations are substantially similar to the Clean Water Council’s recommendations for FY2012-13.
Overall, we find that the governor’s budget properly avoids raiding statutorily dedicated funds, and his bonding proposal leaves room for inclusion of conservation projects at traditional levels. However, the Governor’s budget proposes general fund cuts to conservation agencies that are deep and disproportionate compared to the overall general fund cuts, raising concerns that Legacy Funds will be impermissibly used as substitute funding for programs that have been cut.