Washington Senate is making a mistake on state Wildlife and Recreation Program
In these difficult budget times, the Washington Legislature's need to cut back the Wildlife and Recreation Program is understandable, write Dan Evans and Mike Lowry, program co-founders and former state governors. But the state Senate's more political approach would put the program in peril.
THE people of Washington state understand that our future prosperity is inextricably bound to our success in preserving the environment in which we live. We have worked to build our thriving cities and developed our diverse economy while conserving the forests, mountains, waters and beaches that sustain our high quality of life.
That's why, 22 years ago we reached across party lines and came together to create the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) to protect critical wildlife and fishing habitats from the havoc wreaked by rapid growth and sprawl, as well as contribute to Washington state's vital farming and recreation economy.
Today, the WWRP is one of the state's most popular and successful programs, enjoying broad bipartisan support for its mandate to protect and improve state and local parks, preserve habitat for fish and wildlife, and save working farms. Over the past 22 years, the WWRP has spent taxpayer dollars with maximum efficiency, with projects ranked according to a rigorous, scientific criteria, free from political influence. Only the most worthy, higher-ranked projects have received funding.
The projects have done more than just preserve critical wildlife areas. They help local farmers keep their land in production and contribute to the 115,000 jobs and the more than $8.5 billion dollars that outdoor recreation contributes to our state's economy. That's why major employers like Boeing, Group Health, Puget Sound Energy, John L. Scott Real Estate, REI and Weyerhaeuser support the program.
So it is with both surprise and disappointment that we need to come together once again to fight about this critical issue. This year the future of the WWRP is in peril in Olympia.
In these tough times, every program funded at the state level must make sacrifices. That's why, when the House of Representatives came through with a budget that, while cutting the WWRP's funding in half, saved the program from elimination, we supported the proposal.
However, it's an even more drastic proposal by the state Senate that has us fighting for the future of the program. And in this case, it's not just a question of funding, but a question of policy that threatens the future of the WWRP.
The Senate and House budgets differ greatly in their approach. The House proposal significantly reduced WWRP grants below last biennium's level but importantly chose to maintain the integrity of the program. Projects are funded using a tried and true independent ranking system that selects the best projects. This means that every community around the state has the chance to get its project funded based on its merits, not political horse trading or earmarking.
The Senate proposal also significantly reduced WWRP grants but importantly it changed existing policy to set aside an additional $16 million of earmarked projects from the WWRP application list, creating a separate, more political criteria for funding projects. The Senate's proposed new way of funding additional projects is dangerous. Creating a meaningless set of criteria to fund politically popular projects, however well intended, is nothing short of earmarking.
If policy doesn't matter in tough times, when does it? The WWRP is about protecting the legacy and heritage of our great state. It is nationally recognized for putting policy above politics. Please do not change that.