Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R, I, C – Batavia) applauded the announcement today that Governor Paterson came to an agreement with state agencies regarding protecting the Snowmobile Trail Development and Maintenance Fund. Hawley led a statewide effort calling on the Governor to return the $1 million swiped from the fund and recently delivered thousands of signed petitions, from all across New York State, to the Governor’s chambers in the State Capitol.
“This is great news for the snowmobilers and other concerned citizens of this state. While the Governor’s agreement with state agencies does not immediately return the funds, as we had hoped, the agreement ensures that this type of funds ‘swipe’ will never happen to snowmobilers again. This is what I called for in my legislation and I hope that when the State Legislature reconvenes, we can pass my bill to ensure that not just snowmobilers, but all dedicated funds are protected,” said Hawley. “This is a true testament to what can be achieved when we work together – both the public and their representations. This is quite an accomplishment for all the snowmobilers of the state and all the supportive residents who helped us in holding Albany accountable.”
The agreement specifically calls on the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) put in place new procedures to ensure that funds paid to the state each year for snowmobile registration fees will be dedicated to trail maintenance and other related program activities. This part of the agreement is nearly exactly the same language as in Hawley’s legislation, Assembly Bill 10732, to prevent the transfer of funds from accounts that are specifically supported with a dedicated fee, such as the Snowmobile Trail Development and Maintenance Fund. The Assemblyman’s bill, in contrast to the Governor’s agreement, would protect all dedicated funds.
Hawley also spearheaded a statewide petition drive, which collected thousands of signatures from concerned New Yorkers, as well as personally circulating a petition to state lawmakers, asking for their support in immediately returning the funds. Over 60 members of the Assembly, from both sides of the aisle, signed the petition. Although the Governor’s agreement does not immediately return the funds, the $1 million will eventually be returned to local snowmobile clubs by reducing the amount of the fund that OPRHP and the Department of Environmental Conservation are currently authorized to spend ($1.1 million). Over the next three years, the agencies will gradually reduce the amount they take from the account by $200,000 in 2008-09, $400,000 in 2009-10, and $400,000 in 2010-11.
Additionally, by correcting a sort of “accounting error,” the agreement is projected to increase local snowmobile trail maintenance grants from $2.87 million in 2007-08 to $5.34 million in 2008-09. The error stemmed from the fact that the annual funding given to local snowmobile clubs was determined by the previous year’s revenues. With the snowmobile revenues increasing annually, local snowmobile clubs did not received their due share in grants. While the agreement corrects this error, it does not stipulate whether or not the miscalculated previous years’ grants will also be corrected.
“As pleased that I am that the state has come to an agreement about protecting the snowmobilers, I think this whole process has raised other concerns as well. From day 1, I have been calling on the state to not just enact provisions to protect dedicated funds or to return the money. But I have also been tackling the issue of why there ever was a surplus in the fund to begin with. Year after year the snowmobile fund revenues are exceeding its expenditures – which tells me that the residents of our state are being charged too much for their snowmobile registration fees. It is great news that Albany has fixed their ‘accounting errors’ but saying the fund is being doubled is misleading. This is money that rightfully belongs to the men and women of our state’s snowmobile clubs. If the clubs can’t spend it, give it back to the snowmobilers themselves or let’s stop taking the money from them in the first place,” stated Hawley, who is currently drafting legislation to reduce or eliminate the fees for snowmobilers.