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State Parks Budget Update
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State Parks Budget Update

WSP Director, Don Hoch

Governor’s budget: As you know, the Commission has expressed gratitude for the Governor’s support and leadership in proposing $39 million total public funding support ($29 million General Fund plus $10 million litter tax) for State Parks. This covers the cost of current services moving forward and makes a modest investment in additional staff and programs. The Governor’s proposal is less than the Commission’s request of $64 million, but his budget provides enough support to stabilize the park system and get us moving in the right direction.

Employee compensation in the Governor’s budget: The Governor’s budget funds the state employee general pay increase negotiated through collective bargaining. The increase would amount to a 3 percent pay increase as of July 1, 2015 and a 1.8 percent increase or 1 percent plus $20 a month – whichever is greater – for July 1, 2016.

House budget: The Chair of the House Appropriations Committee followed the Governor’s lead and announced a budget that provides $39 million in tax support for State Parks. 

Employee compensation in the House budget: The House budget provides the same level of general pay increase for state employees as the Governor’s proposal.

Senate budget: The Chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee has introduced a budget that is very concerning.  The proposal provides $15 million in total public funding support for State Parks. This is a $24 million difference from the Governor and House proposals, which each provide $39 million.  The Senate’s proposed level of funding would mean no new investment in agency programs or staffing and would require the agency to downsize significantly. To give you an idea of the magnitude of downsizing the Senate proposal represents, it would be the equivalent of more than 100 employees. This level of reduction would have serious impacts on our operations statewide and would undermine the services and operations that generate revenues to support the park system and our state’s economy. The Senate Committee Chair’s budget proposal – unlike the Governor and House proposals – calls for a continued movement toward zero public tax support.

Employee compensation in the Senate budget: The Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair did not fund the general wage increase for state employees negotiated through collective bargaining. Instead, the proposal funds $1,000 in annual increases on July 1, 2015 and July 2016 for full-time employees, with prorated increases for part-time employees. 

Commission Chair Pat Lantz testified to the Senate yesterday. She told the Senate the Commission remains clear that zero public tax support is an undesirable goal and noted that no comparable park system in the country has been able to achieve a “zero public funds” budget. During the testimony, the Commission chair asked the Senate to provide a minimum of $39 million in public tax support in 2015-17 and to think about the long-term implications of their budget in providing continued support for the future.

We want to keep you informed, but we don’t want to create unnecessary anxiety. Even though the Senate budget looks grim, I would like all of you to keep in mind that the Governor already has gone on record to say the Senate budget “does not adequately fund State Parks.”  There is still a long way to go in this budget process. Once the House and Senate pass their versions of the budget, they will form a conference committee to negotiate and agree upon a final 2015-17 state operating budget to submit to the Governor for signature.

Also, please know that the Commission and I, along with other staff, partners and stakeholders, will work tirelessly to advocate for adequate funding. I remain optimistic about our budget, and I feel proud knowing that, even in times of uncertainty, you continue to do a great job. I appreciate your dedication and hard work.

A note about the capital budgets: The Governor’s budget funds most of the Commission’s capital request. The House capital budget provides a level of funding similar to our current capital budget. The Senate capital budget is expected to be announced in coming days. 

I’ll keep you updated as we go. Stay tuned, and take care.

Don


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