We received another round of great news for New York’s historic state park system in Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget.The Governor’s proposed budget includes a $90 million investment in park infrastructure for the third consecutive year. This will allow the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) to continue addressing the $1 billion backlog of infrastructure needs and critical safety repairs at New York State Parks and Historic Sites, which PTNY first brought to attention in its landmark report, Parks at a Turning Point.
Parks are an integral part of the state’s infrastructure. The Governor and Legislature have recognized this by including parks over the last two years in efforts to rebuild the state’s infrastructure and economy. This commitment has made it possible for State Parks to sustain its progress in addressing the estimated $1 billion in critical infrastructure needs, breathing new life into the park system. The $179 million investment made by the state over the last two years, leveraged with $50 million in other funds, is creating strong local jobs and helping to grow the state’s economy while also restoring and reinvigorating treasured and beloved state parks and historic sites. Flagships like Niagara Falls, which only a few years ago were called “shabby” and “underfinanced” by the New York Times, are beginning to receive makeovers that will encourage increased visitation from tourists all over the world.
The Parks’ operations budget has been cut 23% since the 2008 economic crisis—more than many agencies—and the agency is operating today with 1,500 fewer staff than it was in 2008. The effects can be felt on the ground with reduced hours, days, and seasons, fewer programs and workers, fewer park police, and less maintenance, not to mention fewer resources dedicated to natural resource protection and the visitor experience.
The FY 2014-2015 Executive Budget puts forth a flat State Parks’ operations budget, as it has for the last several years. Rising costs outside of the agency’s control mean that even a level operations budget will have deleterious results.
Essentially, our state parks are serving more and more visitors, but being given fewer and fewer resources with which to do so. While capital improvements are critically important, without sufficient funding for operations the agency is left struggling to achieve its mission of “providing safe and enjoyable recreational and interpretive opportunities for all New York State residents and visitors and to be responsible stewards of our valuable natural, historic and cultural resources.”
Environmental Protection Fund
The Environmental Protection Fund— the dedicated source of funding for protecting New York’s water and air, providing stewardship for state parks and forests, and delivering essential resources to communities such as the municipal park program which is used for local park and trail projects—is increased by $4 million to $157 million in the Executive Budget. While this increase is welcome, it falls short of what is needed to meet the growing need for environmental funding across the state.
Earlier in his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo also introduced the new Lifetime Empire Passport that would allow New Yorkers unlimited access to New York State Parks and Historic Sites. Read our testimony to the Governor from the joint legislative public hearing on Environmental Conservation.
Please thank Governor Cuomo for his third consecutive year of strong capital funding for our state park system and express your hope that the Parks’ operating budget will soon be restored to allow the agency to better fulfill its mission by calling (518-474-8390) or emailing him.