President and Congress propose big increases in land purchase funding|
Tuesday, April 20, 1999
President Clinton and a key group of bipartisan leaders in the 106th Congress are advocating initiatives that would revitalize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The programs, if enacted, could eventually solve many recreation access and open space conservation problems in urban, rural, and backcountry areas throughout America.
President Clinton's Lands Legacy initiative, announced January 12, would spend $1 billion in Fiscal Year 2000 on a variety of land acquisition programs. Clinton is the first president to ever propose full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Several proposals in Congress would go even further, providing full and permanent funding for LWCF, and also adding large funding increases to wildlife management and coastline protection.
For mountain bikers, this movement at the top levels of government could mean the greatest access improvements we have ever seen. Throughout the nation, cyclists and trail users generally have increasingly lost opportunities as private lands are developed or made off limits by landowners. If the LWCF and accompanying proposals are fully funded, much more money will be available to acquire these threatened lands, or to acquire easements across them.
IMBA has long supported the movement to revitalize LWCF and has joined the Americans for our Heritage and Recreation coalition, which works exclusively on the LWCF problem. AHR notes that the revitalization of LWCF has for years been a top priority for the conservation movement, but success will require the involvement of more diverse constituencies. Mountain bikers can help provide that diversity, so IMBA is encouraging members to support this effort by writing their Representatives and Senators.
The President's proposal would provide $440 million for federal lands acquisition and $200 million for a modified LWCF stateside program that replaces the current formula with competitive grants, limits use to land acquisition and easements, includes states, localities, and non-profit land trusts as eligible recipients, and dedicates 25 percent of the fund for state "smart growth" planning. The President's initiative also includes $4 million for the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery program, $50 million for the forest legacy program, $80 million for habitat conservation, $50 million for farmland protection, and $200 million for coastal restoration.
The support for full LWCF funding is led on the Republican side by Representative Don Young and Senator Frank Murkowski, both from Alaska and both chairs of the relevant committees. In the previous Congress, the only support for full LWCF funding came in a bill by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D - MO). Republican leadership beginning with President Reagan had long opposed, or weakly supported, federal land acquisition, and President Clinton until 1996 had followed in that pattern. The climate shifted when the Congress allocated nearly full funding for LWCF in 1997, but returned to spending only a third of the fund in 1998. Current proposals could eliminate the variability by making LWCF an off-budget trust fund, not subject to yearly appropriations.
In a related story, potentially of equal importance to cyclists, Vice President Al Gore in January proposed a $10 billion bond program to help U.S. communities preserve green space, reduce traffic congestion, protect water quality and clean abandoned industrial sites.
The "Better America Bonds" initiative would significantly enhance the ability of state, local and tribal governments to acquire open space. It would allow them to obtain 15-year bonds which pay zero interest, but nonetheless attract investors who would instead receive federal tax credits. The cost to taxpayers would be $700 million over the first five years.