Magazine article American Forests

Big Picture Needed, Please

Magazine article American Forests

Big Picture Needed, Please

Article excerpt

Lost in this year's budget tangle is the realization that the share for natural resources and the environment just keeps getting smaller.

The Administration and Congress are engaged in heated discussions over the FY 2006 budget, with a major political objective of reducing the federal deficit while increasing tax cuts and continuing funding for the war in Iraq. That adds up to a need for significant spending cuts in many domestic programs, with exceptions such as Defense and Homeland security. Programs that support communities and collaborative forestry efforts have taken more than their fair share of those cuts (see Washington Outlook, p. 17).

It's easy to get caught up in these short-term funding discussions, haggling about which programs merit higher priority and which programs will get eliminated or reduced. These are important policy discussions, but what about the bigger picture and long-term trends for federal spending?

Over the past 40 years, annual federal spending has increased steadily from $624 billion in 1964 to $2.1 trillion in 2004 (in constant FY2000 dollars). Over the same period, annual spending for natural resources and environment programs increased much more slowly-$14.5 billion to $27.8 billion.

In fact, as a percentage of annual federal spending, support for natural resources and the environment has been cut nearly in half over the last 40 years. For every dollar of federal spending in the early 1960s, 2.4 cents went toward these important programs; in 2004, it's just 1.3 cents. Despite some fluctuation in the annual percentage over the years, that spells a clear trend-one you might miss if you focus solely on the current budget battle.

So, where has that extra money gone? The major shift has been from Discretionary to Mandatory spending. In 1964, Discretionary spending programs (those over which congressional appropriators make decisions, including national defense and other domestic programs) made up nearly 72 percent of federal spending while Mandatory spending (programs like Medicaid, Social security, and other entitlements) made up the remaining 28 percent.

By 2004, Discretionary spending had dropped from nearly 72 percent to just 38 percent, while Mandatory spending had grown from 28 percent to 62 percent. …

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