Assemblyman Pete Lopez is calling on his legislative colleagues to deny member item, or “pork barrel,” funding this year and instead use the money to help address key budget priorities, including saving 57 state parks and historic sites that have been identified for closure, as well as 22 additional sites slotted for service reductions, due to lack of budgetary funding.
“As elected officials, we also have a responsibility to lead by example. Balancing the budget and building our economy will not happen unless everyone is willing to give. There can be no sacred cows when businesses are failing and families are losing their jobs and homes,” said Assemblyman Lopez.
As a recent press conference, hosted by the Senate and Assembly committees charged with oversight of the state park system, advocates highlighted the system’s contribution to our state economy. These visitors bring much-needed business to the communities in and around the parks and historic sites as they shop at local stores and patronize other businesses.
According to the New York State Council of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, a record 56 million people visited New York State parks and historic sites in 2009, an increase of over 2 million from 2008. Trends in tourism show that during times of economic recession, people tend to stay closer to home for their vacations; indeed, a new word was coined over the last year to describe these stay-at-home vacations or “staycations.” This trend is nothing new: during the Great Depression, Governor Franklin Roosevelt increased the size of the state’s park system. Furthermore, his successor, Governor Herbert H. Lehman used the park system expansion as an opportunity to put to work many of those unemployed by the collapse of the private sector.
Assemblyman Lopez asked, “While Mr. Paterson has made clear his intentions, we cannot govern by press releases. Collectively, we have a responsibility to engage Governor Paterson on this issue.”
In fact, Assemblyman Lopez has reached out to the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to find answers to some of the most pressing questions, including:
- Who will pay for the cost of closing the parks and historic sites and how many jobs will be lost?
- Who will pay for the cost of monitoring parks and historic sites to protect not only the sites and natural resources but members of the public?
- Who will be found liable if someone is injured while trespassing on a closed park or historic site?
To date, many of these questions remain unanswered and will invariably surface as the legislature puts together its response to the Governor’s plan. Through his 21-day budget amendments, the Governor included a clause that would help save some of the parks, if the Legislature can find $5 million for the Environmental Protect Fund. Assemblyman Lopez’s solution is to use a portion of the estimated $149 million appropriated in last year’s budget for member item funding to make restorations.
The Assemblyman said, “While many of my colleagues have been quick to call for restorations, none have offered a source other than simply raising taxes. The solution is simple: use member item money to fill the gap. Let’s put our money where our mouths are and save the parks and historic sites. There is no better gift the legislature could give the people of our state – not only for this year, but for years to come.”