Full funding for LWCF is fiscally responsible
Imagine two couples, each with a newborn child. Both couples open up investment accounts for the college bills that will hit in full force 18 years in the future.
Over the years, both couples have wants and needs. Their kitchens are not nice enough, the TV is not big enough, they each have their eyes on a new car, and their wardrobes are looking tatty.
Couple A sets about achieving those objectives at a slow and deliberate pace, only biting off what they can afford, and remaining diligent about building and protecting the college fund.
Couple B has a different approach. The come-hither gloss of the granite countertops, the intoxicating smell of leather seats in a new minivan, the wall-sized HDTV down at the appliance store, and the latest fashion trends prove too tempting. They raid the kid’s college fund and go on a shopping spree.
Which couple is the more fiscally responsible? Of course, you would choose Couple A.
Congress, however, has been behaving more like Couple B when it comes to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The LWCF is a federal pot that was established for acquiring open space and for recreation projects that meet local priorities.
The program, the brainchild of a commission established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, ensures that we balance the use of our natural resources with investments in conservation and stewardship.
In 1977, Congress agreed to deposit into the fund $900 million per year from offshore oil and gas royalties.
Like fiscally responsible Couple A, Congress agreed to forego some consumption today in order to leave a bequest for future generations.
Here’s the catch. Funds deposited into LWCF are not automatically available for their intended purpose. Congress must appropriate the funds through legislation.
Like fiscally irresponsible Couple B, Congress has yielded to temptations to grab LWCF money for other programs.
Over the past decade, Congress appropriated an average of only $313 million annually from the fund, far below the $900 million per year authorized in 1977.
The lack of fiscal discipline that has shortchanged investments in our natural heritage doesn’t square with what American citizens want. Recent polling shows that 86 percent of voters – including 83 percent of Republicans – support using offshore oil and gas revenues for protecting open space and expanding outdoor recreation opportunities.
LWCF is a program that works. It provides critical funding to buy open space from willing sellers and to develop places to play that are available for all citizens, which in turn pays dividends in high quality of life, good health, and local economic activity.
LWCF investments provide spin-off benefits that benefit taxpayers. A good example is reductions in wildfire suppression costs, which costs the federal government some $3 billion per year.
Here’s why: Fighting wildfires to protect private homes costs much more than fighting fires in undeveloped backcountry.
A 2009 study estimated that wildland firefighting costs could double in the next 15 years, partly as a result of expanding residential development in remote, rugged areas. Leaving some fire-prone lands wild, by buying them from willing sellers, would hold down those costs.
The LWCF is a federal program that delivers good value for money spent. It is premised on conservative values - foresight, saving for the future, and fiscal responsibility.
Congress has an opportunity to live up to its trust responsibility, by passing legislation that dedicates the full amount of LWCF funds to their dedicated purpose. It is the right thing to do for unborn generations.
Jim DiPeso is vice president for policy and communications at Republicans for Environmental Protection.