Friday, February 5, 2010

A green Tennessee benefits everyone

by Kathleen Williams, Guest Editorial, The Tennessean, Feb.5, 2010

Do only greenies and tree-huggers need clean water, clean air and abundant food? Supporting policies that safeguard our environment is Christian and it's patriotic. It's for people who love their homeland and this beautiful world. It's also for people who want a strong economy, white collar jobs, tourism to thrive in our state and a stable tax base. (link)

Commentary

Kathleen Williams is the Executive Director of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, a non-profit conservation agency. She is also my sister and I am very proud of the work she is doing.

TPGF has saved thousands of acres of land in Tennessee and convinced land owners to put conservation easements on thousands of additional acres. TPGF has also made grants to other agencies that have used the money to enhance trails and make wilderness land more accessible to hikers and other outdoor enthusiast. In my view, as important as is the amount of land that has been saved, it is what has been saved that is important. Due to Kathleen’s efforts, beautiful waterfalls have been saved for public enjoyment and beautiful vistas have remained beautiful vistas.

Two years ago, the revenue from a State real estate transfer tax which was supposed to be dedicated to a conservation land acquisition fund and related purposes was diverted to the general fund. The legislation that created the tax over 20 years ago specified how the funds generated from the tax could be used.

Kathleen has been working tirelessly ever since the fund was raided to have that fund restored. I thought she was titling at windmills. I did not think she would get the fund restored. One should never underestimate Kathleen. She is charming and passionate and persuasive and determined.

Of course, the fight is not over. The governor has only restored the funds in his proposed budget; the legislature has not acted. The state of Tennessee is in dire straights as are many states in these hard economic times. Services, including TennCare, are being cut and over a thousand state employees will loose their jobs under under the proposed budget . This year, Governor Bredesen was able to craft a budget by making strategic cuts and by using federal stimulus funds and “rainy day” reserve funds for reoccurring expenses. The legislature very well may make changes to the proposed budget and the land acquisition fund could still be at risk. In the next budget cycle, the next governor will have even a harder time developing a budget. The temptation to take money from where ever it can be found in order to hammer together a budget is tempting.

I can understand the temptation to raid a fund like the land acquisition fund in order to balance the budget but I think it is unwise. I love Tennessee. Our state is beautiful. As the population grows however and has coal companies and timber companies start selling off their holdings, that beauty is threatened. To keep Tennessee beautiful and green, there need to be funds available to save threatened natural treasures. When a beautiful vista becomes doted with houses the wilderness experience will never be the same. I want to save Tennessee’s wild and scenic beauty for future generation.

Not only is raiding the land acquisition fund unwise in my view, but I think it is immoral. When a tax is passed for one specific purpose it should not be diverted to another purpose. If the purpose is no longer worthy of funding, repeal the tax.

Some years ago Governor Bredesen was Nashville’s Mayor Bredesen and he was trying to find the funding to build the football stadium that became home to the Titans. To put together the financial package to pay for the bonds to build the stadium, he diverted funds generated from a fee that had been added to people’s water bill. The purpose of this fee was to combat non-point source water pollution and clean up the waste water discharge into the Cumberland River. The Nashville community was so gung ho about building the stadium that no one objected to diverting these funds, including the environmentalist community. I was not in the Council at the time the stadium was funded, but I was in the Council when the fee was passed that increased peoples water bill. I thought it was necessary at the time and I voted for that fee. I was misled and the people were robbed.

I hope that our legislators and future Governor are wise and moral and leave the land acquisition fund in tact. We can trust Kathleen to work to see that they do.

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