For the past several months, a good portion of NRPA's advocacy efforts have been focused on the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. You have probably heard from NRPA about the Transportation Equity Act in a variety of ways, and many of you have taken action to show your support. In fact, park and recreation advocates have already established themselves as a force to be reckoned with as the reauthorization bill proceeds. What may not be clear to all NRPA members, however, is why this bill is so important to parks and recreation locally; regionally and nationally.
The Transportation Equity Act is critical to parks and recreation for a number of reasons. Most significantly, it provides hundreds of millions of dollars annually to local communities and to states for park and recreation purposes as well as quality-of-life improvement related to transportation infrastructure. For example, in the past six years, nearly $5 billion has been spent in local communities on thousands of Transportation Enhancements (TE) projects. The Transportation Enhancements program is so far-reaching that projects have been completed in 98 percent of United States. counties. An additional $300 million went to Recreational Trails Projects in every state. Nearly one-half billion dollars went into the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund, which supports boating safety programs, fishing enhancements and wetland conservation. The impacts of this bill to parks and recreation in America cannot be overstated. It is also the reason that NRPA, along with a large coalition of like-minded organizations, most be extremely vigilant.
Park and recreation advocates across the nation were galvanized into action this past summer by a stealth proposal from Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., Chairman of the Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies Subcommittee (TT&I), to strip funding for the Transportation Enhancements--a vitally important spending category of the Transportation Equity Act that is annually set aside for bike, pedestrian and rail trail projects as well as 10 other sub-categories of enhancements--from the FY 2004 transportation spending bill.
When the Appropriations Committee passed the TT&I Subcommittee bill on a 33-29 vote in August 2003, it was a shot across the bow that powerful interests in and out of Congress intend to divert funding that has been purposely set-aside for trails, alternative transportation systems and community improvements, and shift such funds solely into highway construction currently and in the future.
After a remarkable grassroots effort, a huge victory was won on Sept. 4, 2003, when the full House voted resoundingly, 324-90, for the Petri-Olver amendment that restored funding and eligibility for the Transportation Enhancements in the FY 2004 budget. But this fight is not over by any means. and the stakes are now raised enormously as Congress and the administration work to craft a next, six-year authorization for spending the Highway Trust Fund. Because the act is only authorized every six years, the spending priorities and amounts are set to the entire period. What happens in the next few months will set the course for critical categories of federal spending on parks and recreation for the next six years.
Beyond spending priorities and authorizations for important programs, however; lies a greater reason for NRPA's concern and vigilance. …