Author: Mozingo, Leslie
Date published: December 1, 2011
The year 2011 has been a memorable one for NRPA advocacy, beginning in January with the swearing in of nearly 100 new members of the 112th Congress. Many of these freshmen rode the wave of fi scal conservatism into elected offi ce for the fi rst time on a platform of cuts, cuts, and more cuts, viewing discretionary spending for items such as parks and recreational facilities as easy targets. However, with challenges came opportunities; advocates of parks and recreation funding moved forward with an unshakeable resolve to educate these incoming members on the value of NRPA priorities, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund's (LWCF) State Assistance Program, the urban parks bill, as well as Transportation Enhancements (TE), the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), and Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S).
This advocacy had a measurable impact on legislation considered during the First Session, including:
*In February, Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) reintroduced the Urban Revitalization and Livable Communities Act (HR 709), which proposed allocating $445 million annually for the revitalization of urban areas, specifi cally via the construction and refurbishing of parks and other recreational facilities.
*Also in February, the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the release of a report on the America's Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative. This report proposed full preservation of the LWCF's funding for FY12 ($900 million, with $200 million allocated to State Assistance); the Obama Administration signaled its endorsement of AGO by including these fi gures in its FY12 budget proposal.
*In April, the President signed the FY11 Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act (PL 112-10), which maintained current year funding for State Assistance, despite a 33 percent cut in funding for the LWCF program overall. An amendment to eliminate LWCF altogether only narrowly avoided passage through the House by three votes.
*In June, fi ve Democratic senators (Max Baucus (DMT), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Udall (D-CO) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced S. 1265 to guarantee annual funding for LWCF with proceeds from offshore oil and gas revenues.
*In September, the Senate released its FY12 Interior Appropriations bill with an additional $5 million for State Assistance, and a zeroing out of the NRPA-opposed competitive grant program being pursued aggressively by the Interior Department.
These successes, however, did not come without several significant setbacks. The new Republican majority in the House quickly sought to fl ex its muscle as the 112th Congress opened. NRPA priorities were attacked vigorously, beginning with HR 1, the House version of the FY11 Continuing Resolution, which proposed total elimination of the LWCF State Assistance Program. Although this fi rst shot was ultimately avoided in the fi nal spending bill signed into law, the House Appropriations Committee dealt another blow to NRPA priorities in August when it passed its version of the Interior Appropriations bill, slashing proposed funding for the LWCF's "Stateside" from the FY11 level of $40 million to just $2.8 million for FY12.
The beginning of summer provided no vacation for parks and recreation advocates as the battle over FY12 allocations soon commenced, with fi scal conservatives redoubling their attack on discretionary spending programs. A primary focus of this effort was the impending reauthorization of the surface transportation bill (SAFETEA-LU), set to expire on September 30th. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) pledged that all non-highway transportation spending would be targeted and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-FL) promised that any bill passing his committee would be streamlined and consolidated (read, programs cut signifi cantly or eliminated entirely).
Further, as the deadline for reauthorizing the surface transportation bill approached without new legislation, the Senate was forced to cobble together a six-month extension of SAFETEA-LU. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) blocked action on the extension in order to highlight TE as "transportation aid on wasteful projects." Ultimately, in exchange for allowing the extension to move forward, Sen. Coburn received assurances that spending would be made optional rather than mandatory when the long-term bill came forward. Fellow caucus members followed suit. Sen. John Mc- Cain (R-AZ) introduced an amendment to change projects eligible for TE funds and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced an amendment to FY12 Appropriations to eliminate TE and move its 10 percent set aside to the Bridge Program. Although both were defeated, the amendments were indicative of things to come.
In November, the Senate EPW Committee passed unanimously its version of the reauthorization legislation, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (or MAP 21), keeping promises by eliminating the 10 percent set-aside provision and allowing states to "opt out" of using funds for TE purposes. Additionally, the EPW bill went further by consolidating TE into an expanded pool of programs, under the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) fund, to include the RTP and SR2S programs, big-ticket highway projects, and even environmental mitigation. These programs would then compete against each other for an overall smaller appropriations amount.
The protectors of parks and recreation funding face a long road in the months ahead. The President's Bipartisan Committee on Defi cit Reduction, a.k.a. Simpson-Bowles, called for the elimination of the entire LWCF program in its fi nal report in 2010. Further, the defi cit reduction committee (or "supercommittee") established under the spring's debt ceiling agreement has been charged with identifying $1.2 trillion in cuts by year's end. NRPA has been vigorously working to ensure that programs which fund parks and recreation projects and programs are not on the chopping block.
While the opposition to park and recreation spending was a real threat during this fi rst session, the power of NRPA's advocacy was quite evident. The gains made in achieving the NRPA's priorities are signifi cant and concrete, while the setbacks are not yet set in stone. Even these setbacks offer our side a ray of hope-the proposals of the bipartisan Simpson- Bowles presented our opponents with the political cover to call for the elimination of many important programs. They didn't eliminate them, and that signifi es recognition of the importance of these programs to their constituencies. There is tremendous public support for parks and recreation projects, and while the opposition can seem monolithic at times, opportunities abound to educate lawmakers on the value of these programs. As we approach the New Year, let us resolve to refl ect on our gains and steel ourselves for the battles ahead.
LeSLie MOZiNGO is a partner with The Ferguson Group, a Washington, D.C. lobbying fi rm which represents NRPA on Capitol Hill.