May 15, 2011
Urgent State Budget Update
Urgent State Budget Update
The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee (JFC) will be considering the PACE program on Wednesday, May 18th, and the Stewardship Program on Thursday, May 19th. While Gathering Waters Conservancy has been fully engaged in the state budget process for many weeks -- meeting with legislators, engaging many of you in the land trust community, and working with a broad coalition of organizations -- we now need to continue and even intensify our advocacy efforts.
For your information, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has released a series of budget papers on Stewardship that include alternatives on funding and on various policy issues. We will be posting an analysis of these budget papers early next week, but you can find the papers for Stewardship here.
Our talking points on Stewardship can be found below.
Gathering Waters Stewardship Talking Points
1. Funding is proposed to remain at the currently authorized bonding level of $86 million a year.
Position: Retain bonding authority at the currently authorized level of $86 million a year.
- Funding for the Stewardship Program is extremely important for Wisconsin's economy, supporting our state's $13 billion tourism industry, $22 billion forestry industry, and $4 billion hunting and fishing industries.
- The State of Wisconsin owns approximately 1.5 million acres of land. Approximately 500,000 acres of this land has been purchased through the Stewardship Program.
- By comparison, the State of Minnesota owns approximately 8.3 million acres of land. Minnesota is only 30% larger than Wisconsin, but has more than 5 times the amount of state-owned public land.
- There continues to be a great need for the Stewardship Program, and there are numerous opportunities for protecting significant properties throughout the state.
- Stewardship debt service works out to less than $10 per Wisconsinite per year, and reducing funding for the program by as much as 30% would only save on average $3 per Wisconsinite per year over the next decade.
- Stewardship is an example of government efficiency and a public/private partnership. Through grants to land trusts and local governments, Stewardship dollars are leveraged many times over with local funds, federal grants and private contributions.
2. The budget bill limits acquisitions to land in fee simple (complete ownership), with very few exceptions for conservation easements (e.g., forestry easements, easements for state trails, and the Ice Age Trail, etc.)
Position: Delete Budget Section 848, which limits use of conservation easements.
- Conservation easements are an important and cost effective tool that should continue to be used by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and land trusts through the Stewardship Program.
- Conservation easement deals make up approximately 11% of Stewardship grants that have been awarded to land trusts.
- Conservation easements have been used in targeted ways to protect the best of the best natural resources.
- The benefits of conservation easements are numerous and include:
- Only select property rights are acquired as part of conservation easement deal (e.g., developments rights, public access rights, etc.), which is less expensive than complete ownership
- Properties protected by conservation easements stay on the local tax rolls and landowners continue to pay property taxes;
- Landowners continue to manage their own properties, therefore avoiding putting management responsibility onto state taxpayers.
- The budget proposal prohibits use of most streambank access easements.
- Streambank access easements have been vital for providing public access along trout streams and protecting important water resources.
- In 2008, Trout Unlimited commissioned a study that showed that recreational angling in southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and northwest Illinois generates $1.1 billion in annual economic benefit to the local economy. This economic activity is driven in large part because of the success of streambank easements in providing public access and protecting cold water fisheries in this area.
3. The bill eliminates payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) to local municipalities for land purchased by the DNR after the bill's effective date.
Position: Delete Section 1749 of the state budget to reinstate PILT payments.
- This budget provision sets up potential conflicts between the DNR and local communities, places the burden of a state investment squarely on the shoulders of local communities, and threatens to undermine the Stewardship Program.
- PILT payments on all DNR Stewardship purchases from 1992 to present (over 350,000 acres) are $11 million annually ($7.5 million comes out of GPR and $4 million from SEG).
- The budget bill only eliminates PILT payments for future purchases, which would not produce significant savings in the next biennium.