Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Keep Tennessee green; stop diverting funds from conservation

Kathleen Williams is president and executive director of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation. You can contact her at http://www.tenngreen.org/; or by e-mail: tenngreen@earthlink.net.

By Kathleen Williams • The Tennessean, May 7, 2010

If you care about the beauty of our homeland, Tennessee, read this message and call the governor and your legislator TODAY.

Tell them to ensure that all land conservation funding is returned in 2010 for Tennessee. Protecting special and fragile lands and waters is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves, our children and future Tennesseans.

[Excerpt] In recent years, the approximately $16.5 million in annual revenue produced by the transfer fees has been diverted to the general fund to help balance the state budget. That is NOT why the legislature established these dedicated fees; it is wrong to take them for other purposes. (link)


I support the funding for conservation in Tennessee. I think it is important to preserve the quality of our water and fragile habitats and preserve the natural beauty of our state for future generations. The state needs funds to save beautiful vistas, expand parks and purchase beautiful waterfalls.

On the other hand, I know that this is probably the most difficult budget year the state has ever faced. I understand the temptation of the State Legislature to take money wherever they could find it in order to craft a budget that avoided the job-destroying $85 million tax increases of the Bredesen budget. $16.5 million of that $85 million was found by raiding the conservation fund.

Despite understanding the temptation to raid this fund, I think it was wrong. I think it is an important principle that taxes should not be imposed for one purpose and then diverted to another purpose.

Years ago, we saw a portion of the water bill that each Nashvillian pays diverted to pay for construction of the Titans football stadium. That water rate increase, when passed, was supposed to be dedicated to addressing non-point source pollution, but the then-Mayor Bredesen wanted to fund the Titans stadium. He devised a scheme that required the water department to pay an "in-lieu of tax" payment to the city using that payment to pay the bonds on the stadium. Water rates are supposed to fund water related functions, not fund the construction of a sports arena. To take money for one purpose and spend it for another purpose is wrong. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.

If the money is not needed for the original purpose for which the tax was imposed; repeal the tax. Bait and switch is immoral. The state legislature should restore the conservation fund and go back to the drawing board and continue working to create an honest budget.

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