2017 Legislative Update 05/15/17

Conservation Agenda 2017

Updated as of 05/15/17

Introduction

The Connecticut Land Conservation Council (CLCC) advocates for land conservation, stewardship and funding, and works to ensure the long-term strength and viability of the land conservation community in Connecticut.  Among CLCC’s constituents are land trusts (there are 137+ in Connecticut), municipal conservation commissions, garden clubs, and local and statewide conservation advocacy groups – each managed, supported, and governed by concerned residents. CLCC is a primary resource and voice for land conservation issues statewide.

CLCC believes that strong and sustainable land conservation is essential to a healthy environment and strong economy.  Land conservation plays a crucial role in protecting and enhancing water quality, ensuring clean air, creating wildlife habitats, offsetting impacts of climate change, enabling access to locally grown foods and products, and providing opportunities for the public to enjoy the natural, scenic, cultural, historic and esthetic qualities of the environment for generations to come.

Land is a finite resource.  Once gone, it’s gone forever; and it is the responsibility and moral obligation of our current generation to ensure that future generations receive the same benefits derived from land conservation that we enjoy today. 

CLCC works with, and encourages our constituents and partners to work with, members of the legislature on policy issues impacting land conservation in Connecticut. To that end, CLCC intends to pursue the following legislative and policy priorities in the 2017 Session of the Connecticut General Assembly.

2017 Legislative and Policy Priorities

Support Funding and Staff for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Open Space and other Programs

In the fiscal year 2016, the general fund portion of the DEEP budget was cut by approximately 5%. In the current fiscal year, the agency’s budget was cut by an additional 14%, with another 10% reduction proposed for next fiscal year.  These cumulative annual cuts to DEEP’s budget have severely undermined the agency’s ability to implement core programs and undertake key functions, with the potential to cause irreversible damage to the state’s quality of clean air, water, wildlife, and recreational resources. Budget cuts in previous years have significantly reduced staffing for DEEP’s environmental and conservation programs including a 20% reduction in staff over the last 10 years.

BAD NEWS!  State Parks take a hit AGAIN in Governor's deficit mitigation plan.  See CFPA's alert HERE and please take action!

BAD  NEWS!  State layoffs include 22 from DEEP:  12 park maintainers (bringing the number of maintainers down from 47 to 35), 1 central services support staff from Environmental Conservation and 9 others from Environmental Quality and Administration combined.

9 others from EQ and Admin combined

 

CLCC priorities with respect to funding for DEEP’s programming for 2017 include:

  • Ensure consistent and increased funding for state land conservation programs including Open Space & Watershed Land Acquisition Program, Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Program and Farmland Preservation Program. 

Status as of 5/15/17:  On April 27, the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee approved a bond package that included the following related to land conservation programs:  For the Open Space & Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program, of the unallocated balance of $32 million, the bond package is canceling $10 million.  This proposal leaves an authorized balance of $22 million which can be allocated by the administration through the State Bond Commission.  Similarly, for the Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust program, there is an unallocated balance $28 million with a cancellation of $8 million.  This proposal leaves a $20 million balance that is authorized but not yet allocated. 

Action:  We will continue to monitor the bond package for any further changes and notify the land conservation community as to the appropriate time to push for the release of authorized but unallocated bond funds for both programs.

  • Protect the Community Investment Act, which generates funding for state programs for open space, farmland/dairy production, historic preservation and affordable housing.  Enhance public awareness of the importance of the fund and ensure that the integrity and level of funding are protected, including restoration of full funding for the next fiscal year.

Status as of 5/16/17: 

Bad News!  On May 11, the Governor released his proposed Deficit Mitigation Plan which includes a sweep of $4.5 million from DEEP’s CIA account – funds which are used for the OSWA grant program.  Deficit Mitigation Plan HERE.  Call to Action HERE.

Bad News!  The Democrat's budget proposal released on May 16 includes a sweep of $15 million from CIA.  Dem's Budget Proposal HERE.

Better News but subject to continuing negotiations with the members of both parties:  The Governor's revised biennial budget, released on May 15, does not include any proposals which further impact the CIA.  

Some Good News … On April 27, the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee voted on its annual revenue package and did not use Community Investment Act funds to help balance the state budget.   The Republican Budget released on April 28 also did not use the CIA funds to help balance the state budget.  We expect the Governor to release his budget this week.  No word on yet on when the Democrats will release their budget proposal.  We’ll keep you posted.  With budget negotiations expected to continue, perhaps into a special session, we will need to continue to be vigilant in monitoring the status of the CIA in all budget proposals. 

Action:  If your State Senator or State Representative serves on the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, please contact them to thank them!  For a list of committee members, click HERE!  Please continue to share your CIA success stories with your state representatives and senator and thank them for their support of the CIA.  See Call to Action and associated talking points.

  • Protect funding and capacity for DEEP to support acquisition, management (including state parks and forests) and inventorying of public lands and for other critical land and natural resource protection programs including, but not limited to, the Council on Environmental Quality, UConn Extension, Conservation Districts, CT Agricultural Station, and Invasive Plants Council.

Update as of 5/11/17 regarding CEQ:  As previously reported, the Governor’s proposed Budget proposes ZERO funding for the CEQ and the budget implementer bill (HB 7051) ELIMINATES all references to CEQ in the Connecticut General Statutes.   On April 27, the Appropriations Committee released its version of the budget and proposed maintaining current funding for the CEQ in FY18 and FY19.   In the second year (FY19), the proposal was to have funding from the “Passport to Parks Fund.” That fund would be established by adoption of Bill 1054, which was the subject of a public hearing also on April 27 in the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. (Scroll down for an update)  However the Appropriations Committee adjourned without voting on the budget. The House and Senate Republicans proposed budget includes no appropriation for the CEQ and would move about half of DEEP's funding to the proposed "Passport to Parks" fund.

Action:  Continue to urge your legislators to restore and status of the CEQ.  See Call to Action and associated talking points.

  • Protect DEEP’s overall budget from further cuts to ensure preservation of the agency’s core programs and key environmental protection functions.

Status as of 5/11/17:  The Governor’s proposed budget eliminated an additional 24 full-time positions.  Budget cuts in previous years have significantly reduced staffing for DEEP’s environmental and conservation programs including a 20% reduction in staff over the last 10 years.  We are evaluating the Deficit Mitigation Plan and waiting for the next iteration of the budget for more details.  

ActionContact your legislators and ask them to oppose additional budget cuts to DEEP.  See Call to Action and associated talking points.

  • Pursue revenue-generating ideas and cost-avoiding proposals to mitigate the damage caused by cumulative reductions in general fund allocations to the agency.

Status as of 5/15/17While the Governor’s proposed budget does NOT include DEEP’s suggested mechanisms to generate revenue for State Parks and other conservation programs, the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee considered the establishment of the “Passport to Parks Fund” through H.B. 1054.  Section 6 of that bill would add a five-dollar fee to vehicle registrations (new and renewals). Revenue would be used by DEEP for parks, hatcheries, pheasants and “to support the duties and activities of the Council on Environmental Quality established pursuant to section 22a-11 of the general statutes.” People who pay the fee would park at state parks for free (per Section 7 of the bill).   CLCC joined CFPA and other partners in favor of the “Passport to Parks” sections, including use of the fund to support the CEQ with recommendations for some language modifications.  View CLCC’s testimony HERE. 

  • Pursue a Constitutional Amendment to Better Protect Public Lands - Ensure the second passage of a Constitutional Amendment bill that protects public lands from being conveyed without appropriate public process and compensation.  

Status as of 5/15/17:  SJ39 was approved unanimously on consent by the Government Administration and Elections Committee.  It is now on the Senate calendar.  Action: Contact your legislators and ask them to show their support by signing on as a co-sponsor of the Resolution.  See Call to Action and associated talking points.  A list of the co-sponsors of SJ39 to date is HERE. 

 

  • HB7278:  2017 Conveyance Act update:  CLCC opposed three sections of the 2017 Conveyance Act, which is the legislative mechanism for conveying by sale, swap or give-away, state lands.  Two of those three sections relating to land in Farmington and Groton, respectively, have been removed.  One section of concern related to land in Colchester remains.  While the subject section has been amended with some improved language, we are still monitoring the bill closely for additional changes (good and bad). 

 

  • Protection of Class I & II Watershed Lands - Support efforts to ensure that existing laws that protect Class I and II Watershed Lands are not weakened.

Status CLCC joined with a number of other organizations to oppose bills that broadened the enabling authority of the South Central Regional Water Authority, unless the language was amended to retain protections to Class I and II watershed lands.  Action:  We are continuing to monitor SB945 to ensure the language we supported continues to be included in the bill.

  • Support Project Green Space Enabling Legislation - Pursue legislation enabling municipalities to collect up to !% of real estate conveyance fee on buyers to support local open space and farmland acquisition as well as park, forest and trail management projects. 

Status:  HB6926 did not make it out of the Planning & Development Committee.  It is considered a dead bill for this year. 

View CLCC’s 2017 Testimony on these and other bills submitted to-date HERE. 

 

Federal Priorities

  • Support appropriations for critical federal conservation programs, including:  Land & Water Conservation Fund, USDA Farm Bill and Conservation Title Programs, USDA Forest Service Programs (including Forest Legacy Program) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Programs (including State Wildlife Grants Program).

 

Congress approved an FY17 budget that will keep funding levels for land conservation programs relatively flat through September 2017.  That’s the good news.  However, proposed budget cuts for FY18 going forward are nothing short of devastating.  Couple that news with continued rollbacks of regulations and programs that protect the environment, and the need to take action has never been more urgent. 

 

CLCC represented the state’s land trusts in D.C. for the Alliance’s Advocacy Days (May 1-3).  We met with all members and/or staff of our Congressional Delegation and asked that they continue to oppose the administrations’ proposed cuts which will impact all of the above programs.  Briefing papers are available as follows (click on program name) and attached below for download:

 

Connecticut Land Conservation Council

Steering Committee and Staff

Catherine Rawson, Chair (Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust); Chuck Toal, Vice-Chair (Colchester Land Trust); David Bingham (Salem Land Trust); Sandy Breslin (Bethany Inland Wetlands Commission); David Brown (Middlesex Land Trust); Margot Burns (Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments); Kevin Case (Land Trust Alliance); Eric Hammerling (Connecticut Forest & Park Association); Stewart Hudson (Audubon Connecticut); Michael Hveem (Joshua's Tract Conservation and Historic Trust); Drew Iacovazzi (West Hartford); Connie Manes (Litchfield Hills Greenprint Collaborative); Elisabeth Moore (Connecticut Farmland Trust); Shirley Nichols (Darien Land Trust); David Sutherland (The Nature Conservancy); Humphrey Tyler (Connecticut River Conservancy

Amy Blaymore Paterson, Executive Director
Cristina Gastador Hayden, Communications Coordinator 
Michael Dugan, Capitol Consulting, CLCC’s Contract Lobbyist

 www.ctconservation.org