Hawley Stands Up For Snowmobilers
Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R-I-C - Batavia) began an investigation into the State Budget's alleged reappropriation of an estimated $1 million from the Snowmobile Trail Development and Maintenance Fund. Collected from the increased snowmobile registration fee, the fund supports the state's 10,000 miles of public snowmobile trails, snowmobile safety education, and enforcement of the state's snowmobile laws.
"If these allegations are true, this is very disturbing news," stated the Assemblyman, who is an avid outdoorsman. "This is precisely why I have fought so hard for the State Legislature to mandate that all spending bills include line-by-line itemizations of how much a proposal will cost and who is footing the bill. Unfortunately, the budget bills not only neglected to do this, but were also delivered to legislators at the eleventh hour. Albany is in serious need of reforming not only how much is spent but how it is being spent."
Calling the reappropriation of this fund "disgraceful and a blatant violation of the public trust," Hawley called upon the State to investigate the matter, first brought to his attention by members of snowmobile clubs in Western New York. The growing number of snowmobilers and members of the public who are outraged is due to the fact that in 2005, legislation was enacted to increase snowmobile registration fees. Hawley was not in office at the time, however, this measure was opposed vehemently by snowmobilers across the state. Despite this, the bill was ultimately passed on the promise that the increased fees would be dedicated to the fund.
In fact, the legislation, the Snowmobile Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2005, stated this in the sponsors' memo with no mention that, if not used within a certain time period, the funds would be appropriated elsewhere. After discussing how the snowmobile clubs were solely responsible with trail development and maintenance, the bill states, "In order to ensure the vitality and capability of the snowmobile clubs to continue in their grueling task of adequately maintaining the state's vast trail system, the state must have a policy that will support the retention and expansion of club membership. This bill creates a financial incentive, by virtue of a two-tiered registration system, for snowmobilers to join and be involved in a snowmobile club."
The "financial incentives" referred to were the increased trail development and maintenance fee portion included in the $10 snowmobile registration fee. Specifically, the fees were increased to $45 ($35 plus the $10 registration fee) for NYSSA members or $100 ($90 plus the $10 registration fee) for non-members. The state requires that all snowmobiles, even those registered in other states, be registered with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. It was also outlined in the act that those who violated the new law would be punished with a $200 fee (half of which would be deposited into the fund). With all these new and increased revenues dedicated to go into the fund, it quickly grew. In fact, it was projected at the time that the economic impact of snowmobiling in the state would be approximately $700 million.
Unfortunately, snowmobilers and state legislators alike were deceived due to an apparent provision that allows the State, at the end of a fiscal cycle, to sweep any remaining money from funds, such as the Snowmobile Trail Development and Maintenance Fund, into a general appropriation, to be spent by the state at will. The initial findings of Hawley's investigation appear to indicate that this was the case with the estimated $1 million remaining in the snowmobilers' fund.
"It is bad enough that Albany spends taxpayers' hard-earned dollars so flagrantly. But, taking the money that snowmobilers had contributed specifically for this fund is outrageous. I am calling on my colleagues in both houses to join me in pledging to return this money to the snowmobile fund. I am also reaching out to the wonderful men, women and children in New York's snowmobile clubs, and other concerned citizens, to raise their voices with me. Together, our voices will be louder and we can, hopefully, restore the fund," stated Hawley.
The Assemblyman will be circulating two petitions - one for lawmakers in Albany to sign and the other for snowmobilers and concerned members of the public to sign. Click here for a copy of the latter petition for public use. All petitions should be returned to Assemblyman Hawley's district office at 121 North Main Street, Suite 100, Albion, NY 14411.