State lawmakers remain skeptical about a provision in Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget plan to transfer money out of special environmental funds to fill financial gaps.
Like the rest of the proposal, it will ultimately need House and Senate authorization.
LISTEN: “Lawmakers Question Wolf’s ‘Intricate Web’ Of Environmental Funding”
The multi-year series of transfers Wolf wants to make would cut general fund contributions to two environmental agencies, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, by tens of millions of dollars.
The holes would be filled with cash from several off-budget funds that are supposed to be used for things like municipal recycling and community revitalization.
One of those funds, the Environmental Stewardship Fund, comes from landfill fees that waste haulers pay to dispose of trash and is used for environmental restoration, land conservation and community recreation projects.
The Keystone Recreation, Parks and Conservation Fund, funded by a portion of the realty transfer tax, has invested over a billion dollars since 1993 on more than 5,500 projects, such as protecting wildlife habitat and developing land and water trails.
The fund-transfers are a move Republicans have attempted in past budgets, but Wolf has never been on board before.
GOP Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Browne didn’t say he opposes the idea, but he ended a recent hearing with a note of caution.
“Not having predictability in environmental protection is a dangerous thing,” he said. “And it’s what we have available now, based on the revenue capacity of the commonwealth. But going forward, there’ll have to be a serious conversation about how we fund these very important operations.”
Browne’s fellow Republican Kristen Phillips Hill was on a similar page.
“There has been some frustration, confusion and concern with regard to that intricate web of fund transfers and borrowing. I called it the hide-and-seek approach,” she said.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell said the transfers might make things a little tighter in the coming year.
But he added, they shouldn’t impact operations at this point.
The proposal is opposed by a dozen hunting and fishing groups, including Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
In a letter sent to the Pennsylvania House and Senate, published by Pa Environmental Digest Blog, the groups said funding for the DEP and DCNR “should come from the General Fund, not from dedicated sources established to support local, on-the-ground projects that conserve and restore our waters, set aside natural lands, and support state parks and recreation.”
Kathy Knauer contributed to this story.