Welcome To 1994! Tools For Evaluating Gov. Wolf’s 2017-18 Environmental Funding Request
Gov. Tom Wolf will present his FY 2017-18 budget proposal to a joint session of the General Assembly on February 7 starting at 11:30. (Click Here to watch live.) He said he plans to cut and consolidate his way to a balanced budget with no increase in personal or state sales taxes and maybe dump special funds into General Fund to be redistributed.
To help evaluate Wolf’s proposed budget with respect to environmental funding, here are some measuring sticks to use.
From 2003 through 2015, the General Assembly and several Governors cut or diverted over $2.4 billion of environmental funding to help balance the budget or to support programs that could not get funding on their own.
The budget trends over the last 14 years for the departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources in particular have been, in a word, horrendous.
Here’s what happened.
Department of Environmental Protection
-- General Fund Support Plummets: General Fund support for its programs dropped from $245.6 million in 2003 (14 years ago) to $148.8 million this year-- a 40 percent drop-- and is significantly below 1994 levels-- $165.6 million (23 years ago). DEP has attempted to make up for these cuts by significantly increasing permit review fees and adopting new annual permit administration fees. DEP is also more reliant on federal funds to keep its programs going.
-- Number Of Staff Plummets: The number of staff at DEP is 802 below where it was in 2003-- a 25 percent drop- and 778 below where it was in 1994. DEP has shifted its staff from other programs, particularly water quality protection, to what has become its largest program-- Oil and Gas Management.
-- Total Budget Down: In total, DEP’s budget is $37.3 million below where it was in 2003. While it is $198.7 million more than in 1994, that funding is primarily grants given out to others from the Growing Greener and Act 13 drilling fees, for example, and increases in federal funding and permit fee revenue.
-- Cannot Enforce Minimum Federal Standards: DEP’s Safe Drinking Water, Air Quality, Surface Coal Mine Regulation, Chesapeake Bay, Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Fund and other programs have all been warned they lack sufficient staff resources to enforce minimum federal standards required by primacy and DEP (rather the General Assembly and the Governor) need to address these deficiencies.
-- Major Sources Of Funding: Overall, roughly 22 percent of DEP’s costs are funded by the General Fund, 28 percent are federal funds and 50 percent come from permit review and administration fees and a small percentage from penalties.
Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
-- General Fund Support Plummets: General Fund support for DCNR dropped from $108.8 million in 2003 to a low of $14.5 million in 2014-15, but was bumped up again in 2016-17 to $59.9 million. Much of the drop was made up by pulling money from DCNR’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund to support personnel and operating costs, rather than promoting long term conservation objectives.
-- Number Of Staff Drops: DCNR staffing levels now-- 1,312-- are below the 2003 complement level of 1,391 and approaching 1994 levels of 1,275.
-- Total Budget Up, But: While DCNR’s total budget is up slightly since 2003-- $9.1 million in 14 years-- and significantly since 1994, the added funding has come from more grant programs like Growing Greener and Act 13 drilling fees, its own Oil and Gas Lease Fund revenues and an increasing dependence on federal funds.
Here are two charts that put the trends in DEP and DCNR budgets in numbers--
-- “Now” complement numbers as of December 1, 2016 (Right-To-Know Requests)
You can fill in the numbers from the proposed FY 2017-18 budget when it is posted on the Governor’s Budget Office webpage.
Pennsylvania’s environmental staffing has plummeted and funding is rapidly approaching 1994 levels, while the ability of DEP to simply accomplish its basic mission, comply with minimum federal standards and address increasingly complex and diverse environmental issues is dangerously eroding.
But, there are several opportunities for reversing at least some of these downward trends. For example, last week Pennsylvania members of the Chesapeake Bay Commission spotlighted the need to create a Clean Water Fund to cleanup our rivers and streams.
There are at least three environmental policy initiatives that would not only measurably improve the environment and promote energy efficiency, they will also create jobs and economic opportunity.
But we are facing a major crossroads, pivot points, where the decisions we make today will impact the fundamental ability of DEP and DCNR to work effectively as agencies.
We can either recognize we can’t continue down this road or continue the same way we’ve been going.
The predictable outcome of business as usual from the last 14 years will be disaster-- perhaps literally in some community-- when DEP in particular no longer has the capacity to do its job through no fault of their own.
[Posted: Feb. 1, 2017]
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