There’s a big difference between cutting and killing. It’s like the difference between thoughtful, priority-driven budget writing and the careless extermination of meaningful programs.
Unfortunately, Gov. Chris Gregoire and some legislators have not exercised superior judgment as they ponder the future of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
In the current biennium, the award-winning WWRP receives $70 million; previously the program received $100 million over two years. Much of that money is leveraged with millions of dollars in federal and local funding to conserve and improve parks, wildlife habitat, trails and working farms. The program helps ranchers stay on their land, farmers grow local food and families frolic on ball fields.
Here in Clark County, for 2011-2012 the WWRP proposes 14 projects valued at $5.4 million. (Since 1990, this community has benefitted from $41.7 million dedicated by the WWRP for 75 projects. All of the money came this way through a highly competitive statewide process that rewards only the most compellingly written proposals.)
Although the WWRP is requesting $100 million again from the state’s capital budget for the next biennium, no reasonable person expects that level of funding to continue during the economic crisis. We get that. WWRP’s most ardent supporters would be wise to expect a further reduction even below the $70 million level. But to kill the program as Gregoire has proposed is to overreact. And her suggestion becomes even more ill-advised when it is discovered that the governor wants to direct $20 million to a newly created Puget Sound Wildlife and Recreation Program.
We like what an editorial in The Wenatchee World had to say about this idea: “The state must cut its heavy debt load. Projects of all kinds will be dropped.” They, too, get it. “What money there will be in the capital budget will go first to high-priority projects, like school construction and other bricks and mortar. Legislators say a great many people will be disappointed.”
The editorial continued: “But you can cut WWRP so it won’t die. You can cut with some sense of equity, rather than shifting funds to a limited area. You can cut so the good projects are not crushed, and so one day this good program can rise again.”
That is how smart budgeting works. More than 250 organizations representing business, recreation and conservation support the WWRP because it has worked so well for so long. The program was created in 1989 by a bipartisan coalition led by two former governors: Democrat Mike Lowry and Republican Dan Evans. In these two decades, WWRP has distributed $624 million for the improvement of open spaces in every corner of the state. One of the prime beneficiaries has been outdoor recreation, which, by the way, contributes more than $8 billion (with a “b”) a year to our state’s economy.
Again, in a shared-sacrifice austerity, no one should expect protection. And every Washingtonian should support the overdue preservation and improvement of Puget Sound. But killing the WWRP (especially when the death is accompanied by the birth of a $20 million program for Puget Sound) is a plan that simply fails the logic test.
For sure, the WWRP is not an earmarks factory. Projects are vetted through a tough application process. The money is well-spent. We know there won’t be as much money — perhaps for many years — but don’t pull the plug on a program that works so well.