The 2013-14 state budget that the NC Senate passed on May 23 provides roughly level conservation funding as the current year and more than doubles the conservation funding levels in Governor Pat McCrory’s recommended budget. The next steps in the budget process are that the House will propose and pass its own bill, then the Senate and House will need to work out any differences before presenting a final version to Gov. McCrory to either sign or veto.
The Senate budget consolidates two of the state’s four existing conservation trust funds (Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund) into one, the Water and Land Conservation Fund. The new trust fund would fulfill the existing missions of those two trust funds and receive $12 million in fiscal year 2013 and $14 million in FY 2014. The states’ remaining conservation trust funds, the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund (ADFPTF) and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PRTF), would remain as separate trust funds. PRTF, which funds expansion and maintenance of state parks and also provides matching grants for local governments to develop and expand local parks projects, would receive an $11 million appropriation in FY 13-14 and $13 million in FY 14-15. ADFPTF, which funds working farm conservation easements and other farm preservation projects, is slated to receive level funding of $1.7 million.
As with the Governor’s recommended budget, the Senate budget eliminates the dedicated funding source for conservation (a portion of the deed stamp tax). Land for Tomorrow, a coalition of conservation (including CTNC), hunting and fishing, agriculture, business, and local government groups, is asking the House to maintain that dedicated revenue. Dedicated funding is essential for land conservation because it provides stable and secure revenue.
State conservation funding has been cut significantly since the recession hit (the Clean Water Management Trust used to be funded at $100 million/year), and demand for conservation project funding continues to far outpace available funds. Identified conservation needs exceed $50 million, and the Senate’s budget takes a positive step toward fulfilling those needs.
Conservation projects help protect drinking water and air quality, provide trails and parks for families to enjoy, support family farms that produce fresh and local foods, and maintain healthy wildlife habitat. And, importantly, conserved lands support NC’s biggest industries – agriculture, tourism, the military – and are a powerful draw for new businesses.
In addition to the budget, Land for Tomorrow will also be working with legislative leaders to ensure that the state’s income tax credit for donations of conservation properties is not eliminated. Bills have been introduced in both houses that would do away with this essential conservation tool which has helped protect more than 230,000 acres of forests, farms, and other natural areas. Click here to find out more about the NC Conservation Tax Credit and send your legislators a message that you support conservation.