Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Advocacy Update: Legislative Victories for NRPA

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Advocacy Update: Legislative Victories for NRPA

Article excerpt

NRPA members' advocacy efforts paid off.

Last month, NRPA members, with the support of a national coalition of partners and other like-minded advocates, achieved two extremely important legislative victories: the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act in a new six-year bill known as SAFETEA-LU and the passage of the 2006 Interior Appropriations bill. While the amount of funding for these bills was paramount, there is also equal significance attached to the strength of the national coalition that was formed for each bill, and the national policy implications that will affect parks and recreation in the future.

In virtually all measures, the new transportation bill stacks up as one of NRPA's best legislative achievements of the past decade. What makes the achievement enormous for NRPA is that virtually every one of the goals identified in its 2005 Legislative Platform was reached.

SAFETEA-LU, properly named the "Safe, Accountable, Efficient Transportation Equity Act-a Legacy for Users," is a six-year reauthorization of the nation's surface transportation program. SAFETEA-LU follows the previous authorization for the surface transportation fund, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA21), and covers the six fiscal years FY 2005 through FY 2009. This omnibus bill includes spending authorizations for highway construction and mass transit, and also includes environmental policy and laws regulating the impacts of highway construction.

In SAFETEA-LU's final version, due to an extraordinary advocacy and education effort by NRPA members and coalition partners, park- and recreation-related spending categories were increased by hundreds of millions of dollars. More importantly, long-standing statutory protections for historic sites, park and recreation areas, wildlife refuges and waterfowl areas, known in the law as section 4(f), were protected from encroachments by the powerful transportation lobbyist groups.

Section 4(f) ultimately was protected because an NRPA-led coalition of more than 20 national organizations representing more than 10 million people-who educated and informed legislators of its value and never gave up.

NRPA supported reasonable compromises to section 4(f) from the beginning of legislative deliberations, but transportation industry groups pushed to remove critical parts of the statute that would have resulted in removing the most important language in the law. NRPA recognizes the tireless, visionary leadership of Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) who stood firmly against efforts to seriously weaken this law. "You can be proud that you could make your voice be heard across America," he says at the closing session of the Rails to Trails Conservancy conference in Minneapolis, Minn., after the vote. "Don't stop; keep going."

Some highlights of authorizations for important park and recreation program categories in SAFETEA-LU include about $3.5 billion for Transportation Enhancements; $370 million for the Recreational Trails Program (an increase of 62 percent); full funding for the Sportfishing and Boating Safety Education Act; and increases for Scenic Byways, Federal Eands Highways Program, the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Program that contain funding for bike-pedestrian transportation corridors and other projects.

A number of exciting new programs have also been established that may hold many opportunities for park and recreation agencies and local communities such as the Safe Routes to School Program, which was funded at $612 million; a new non-motorized pilot demonstration program for four selected cities and counties (Minneapolis, Minn; Marin County, Calif. …

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