Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Legislative Forum Delivers for NRPA Members

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Legislative Forum Delivers for NRPA Members

Article excerpt

NRPA members receive valuable information on how to protect funding for programs and raise the profile of parks and recreation on Capitol Hill.

NRPA's National Legislative and Policy Forum on Parks and Reereation delivered a powerful message to attendees about the importance of legislative advocacy and national public policy based on NRPA's mission statement-"To advance parks, recreation and environmental conservation efforts that enhance the quality of life for all people."

NRPA's Public Policy staff invited experts, key congressional staffers and their legislators to make presentations about key legislation and how it will affect park and recreation departments nationwide. NRPA members also had the opportunity take their message to their own representatives and senators during "Parks and Recreation Day on Capitol Hill." (See pages 48-49 for photos from the day.) NRPA members gained valuable knowledge about the state of pending legislation, and secured numerous commitments from legislators to support legislation important to parks and recreation locally and nationally. Members also heard firsthand about challenges for parks and recreation from the highly increased competition for appropriations and federal resources.

Protecting Our Programs

Marianne Fowler, executive vice president of Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, spoke about strategies to reauthorize the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). Fowler analy zed the history of the bill and its many permutations over the past Ii years, with particular emphasis on how bicycle and pedestrian trails have been a priority for funding in this bill over the years.

The multi-year TEA-21 Act funds the nation's surface transportation programs, and also provides matching federal funds for the construction of trails, pedestrian walkways and other programming integral for park and recreation departments' survival. The current act expired in September 2003, but received two short-term extensions, the most recent ending March 30. Fowler said the biggest problem facing NRPA and its members is the uncertainty surrounding the reauthorization of TEA-21-from the secrecy of the meetings to the shifting congressional support for certain provisions of the bill-all leading to uncertainty that a long-term bill will actually be passed before the 108th congress adjourns.

Because there is such competition for limited funding, critical portions of the bill such as the Recreation Trails Program (RTP), might not receive the full amount of funding expected. During the last reauthorization six years ago, Fowler noted that the RTP was authorized to provide $50 million to states annually for the construction and maintenance of recreational trails for motorized and non-motorized users. Funding in the senate and house versions would provide $00 million annually for the RTP program.

Fowler said there is $9.3 billion for a total of 1,860 projects in the new bill. The Senate proposes $188.6 million, or 110 projects, to focus on bicycle and pedestrian trails as part of RTR But the main problem is that while the Senate and the House consider various provisions of TEA-21, no outside organization will be privy to the decisions.

Fowler urged NRPA members to speak to legislators about protecting their programs. "We will take a proportionate cut... but our programs are not to be cut out," she said. "Regardless of what the final price tag on this bill is, as these budgets get compressed ... our programs [will need to] get protected."

Demanding Dollars? for Conservation

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) surfaced as another problem program after President George W Bush proposed his FY 2005 budget. In it, Bush set aside only $220 million for the federal side of LWCF and only $94 million for the state assistance grant program, which normally receives an annual reauthorization of more than $900 million annually. The IJWCF program is one of the most important avenues for park and recreation departments to receive funding for state and local investments. …

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