Senate Proposal Cuts WWRP Funding by Add. $30M, Moves $16M to Earmarked Projects

April 11, 2011

The Washington Senate released their proposed Capital Budget Tuesday night, revealing an additional $30 million in cuts to the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), which funds high priority land conservation projects across the state.  In addition to the cuts, the proposal would take $16 million of funding away from the WWRP and earmark it for poorly ranked, but politically popular projects, ignoring the objective ranking criteria that has made the WWRP a nationally recognized program.  The program, originally slated for elimination by the Governor was restored in the House Capital Budget proposal last week at $50 million with no earmarks.

In addition to the multiple projects cut statewide, the Senate proposal is disastrous for Washington farming.   “Many people don’t realize saving our local farms means saving local jobs.” said Jeff Dawson a rancher in Colville area who notes that the Senate proposal completely eliminates funding for working farmlands and other critical projects that were included in last week’s House budget.  “What will happen to local families if they can’t farm anymore?” he asks.

A complete list of projects that have been cut is attached.

Over the last 20 years the WWRP grant program has taken root as 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. While the House saved the program last week (It was originally slated for elimination in the Governor’s budget), the Senate proposal has put the program at risk again. If passed, the Senate budget would:

·       Eliminate all farmland preservation funding (WWRP is the only source of funding for to keep working farms alive.)

·       Cut 30 of the 68 projects funded in the already pared down House budget

·       Drastically underfund an additional six programs

·       Puts over $13.5 million in federal leverage dollars for local communities at risk

·       Destroy the objective ranking system the WWRP has used for 20 years in order to fund politically popular projects.

“It is commendable that both the House and the Senate recognize the role that outdoor recreation and wildlife preservation plays in our state’s economy,” said Joanna Grist, executive director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, which advocates for the program.  “However by changing the criteria to fit a political need, the Senate proposal destroys the faith of project applicants in the grant process and unfairly supports earmarks over well ranked projects.”

Statewide, renewing WWRP funding is an essential investment in our long term prosperity because of the millions of retail dollars and hundreds of thousands of tax dollars a year that flow to the state and local economies through tourism and outdoor recreation.  Outdoor recreation generates $8.5 billion in revenues annually to Washington’s economy and supports 115,000 jobs.

While the House proposal represents a 50% budget cut for the WWRP from 4 years ago, their proposal funds the program at a level that, despite tough economic times, means people across the state from urban settings to rural can benefit for generations to come. By contrast, the Senate’s proposal drastically under-funds critical projects and rejects the WWRP’s objective ranking system in favor of what is widely being panned as more of the same when it comes to political earmarks.

The WWRP is recognized nationally for its objective funding criteria that funds the best projects and doesn’t allow for ear marking or the cherry picking of pet projects by elected officials.   Despite hurdles like the match requirement, in a down economy cities, counties and non-profits submitted 270 requests for almost $185 million this biennium.

About the WWRC
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition (WWRC) is a non-profit citizens group founded in a historic bipartisan effort by former Governors Dan Evans and Mike Lowry.  Our members consist of a diverse group of over 250 organizations representing conservation, business, recreation, hunting, fishing, farming, and community interests. Our breadth and diversity is the key to our success–no one member of the Coalition could secure this level of funding for parks and habitat on their own!

What We Do
The Coalition founded the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) grant program in 1989 to address the need to preserve more land for outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat. A state agency, the Recreation and Conservation Office or RCO, reviews, ranks, and distributes the grants through a competitive process that guarantees that only the best new park, habitat and farm projects are funded. The Coalition lobbies the Governor and the Legislature, which sets the funding level and approves the final list of projects.

What is the WWRP?
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (RCW 79A.15) is a state grant program funded from the capital construction budget that provides funding to protect habitat, preserve working farms and creates new local and state parks. Independent experts rank the applications based on criteria such as the benefits to the public, level of threat to the property, or presence of threatened or endangered species.

What is the difference between the WWRP and the WWRC?
The WWRC, or Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, is the non-profit citizens group that serves as the watchdog and advocate for the WWRP grant program.  The WWRP is a state grant program funded by the legislature and administered by the RCO. The Coalition receives no funding from the state—instead we rely entirely on the generous contributions of individuals, organizations, and corporations for our operation.