2017 State Legislative Session: How Did Trails and Recreation Do?
When the state legislature adjourned without passing a complete capital budget, it left a number of trail projects in the lurch. In one bright spot, No Child Left Inside was funded through the operating budget.
The 2017 state legislative session will go down in history as the state’s longest session ever at 193 days. On a disappointing note, this year will also be noted in the history books as the first time the legislature adjourned without passing a full two-year capital budget. The capital budget provides funding for a number of important construction projects around the state—including trail and outdoor recreation projects.
As The Tacoma News Tribune reported, the state’s $4 billion capital budget provides funding for school construction and mental health facilities, also wrapped up in the capital budget are critical conservation and recreation projects, and grant programs that fund trails.
WTA’s legislative priorities were also greatly impacted by the lack of a capital budget. Many of the state and federal lands trail projects that WTA works on benefit from the passage of a capital budget. A critical federal grant program—the Recreational Trails Program (RTP)—is funded through the federal gas tax. The grants are provided to land management agencies and nonprofits, including WTA. While RTP is a federal program, the State Legislature must authorize the funding as a “pass through” in the state’s capital budget. Due to the lack of a capital budget, WTA and other partner organizations and land managers won’t receive those funds, impacting trail projects around the state. The degree of those impacts is still an unknown and in the coming months we will begin to see how the lack of a capital budget effects Washington state.
On the operating budget side, which funds day-to-day government operations and some grant programs, such as No Child Left Inside, recreation and trails came away with some essential funding that will keep operations moving forward.
Here’s the scorecard for our priorities this year.
Teanaway Community Forest
What we worked for: Securing $775,773 in the operating budget and $1.5 million in the capital budget to ensure people are able to access and enjoy the Teanaway Community Forest.
How it fared: The Teanaway Community Forest received $775,773 in operating budget; no capital budget funding was received due to the lack of a budget passing.
No Child Left Inside
What we worked for: Advocating for $2.2 million in the operating budget for this important program that provides invaluable grants to Washington state outdoor education and recreation programs for youth.
How it fared: $1.5 million was included in the final budget for the program. While this wasn’t the full amount we were advocating for, it still is a significant investment in improving youth access to education and recreation and more than the previous biennium.
Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program
What we worked for: Supporting the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition’s $120 million capital budget request for WWRP. WWRP is a critical funding source for hiking trails and walking paths.
How it fared: No funding was received due to the lack of a capital budget passing.
Washington State Department of Natural Resources
What we worked for: Funding the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ requests for recreation funding including $8.1 million (capital budget) for the Sustainable Recreation program and $948,000k (operating budget) and $4.5 million (capital budget) for the Natural Areas program. DNR lands provide substantial outdoor recreation opportunities, but investments are needed by the state to complete vital recreational improvements and trail maintenance projects.
How it fared: The Natural Areas program received no funding in the operating budget. No funding was received for the capital budget for either program due to the lack of a budget passing.
Washington State Parks
What we worked for: Supporting the Washington State Parks’ $174.5 million (operating budget) and $96.5 million (capital budget) requests. These funds would put State Parks on a pathway to restore the health of the agency and provide essential funding that would help reduce the more than $500 million deferred maintenance backlog for State Parks.
How it fared: The final operating budget included $165.4 million for State Parks. No funding was received for the capital budget due to the lack of a budget passing.
A community that works for trails
The challenges this year went well beyond trails and the failure of the legislature to pass a budget will have wide reaching impacts. Yet, WTA’s advocates helped ensure important funding for the management and maintenance of our public lands. And we will continue to come together and find solutions to invest in the recreation values that hikers believe in.
If you are not already a member of our Trail Action Network, join us now and learn how you can continue to be a voice for trails and help WTA create a recreation system that Washingtonians will be proud of for years to come.