A couple of news stories over at the Albany Times-Union caught my attention. The first ties in with my recent posting on parks, with the suggestion that a dedicated fund be created for state parks. The second one talks about how the State Museum has had to make cut-backs. How are these two linked? The reason the State Museum has problems is because it had a dedicated fund:
But rather than setting aside money in the fat years, state leaders raided the fund.
Starting in 2005, the Cultural Education Account was used to subsidize the New York State Theatre Institute, sending $13.8 million to the Troy-based troupe over the past five years. Gov. David Paterson’s administration took over NYSTI earlier this year after the state Inspector General concluded that Patricia Snyder, the organization’s producing director, engaged in questionable spending and runaway nepotism. NYSTI’s production of “A Christmas Carol” next month is expected to be its last.
The account also sent $2.9 million in subsidies to The Egg, and had $7.2 million redirected to the state’s general fund between 2002 and 2008.
Before any conservatives chime in, from 2002 to 2006, the governor was a Republican, and the Majority Leader in the State Senate was the Republican senator from … Troy.
Which is why this paragraph about creating a dedicated fund for parks stood out:
Our parks need a dedicated revenue fund, or at least that is the view of Ash and OSI director Joe Martens. The alliance will advocate for creation of such a fund.
I am assured that the details and limits of a dedicated fund are a work in progress. Because there are obvious warning flags to consider, and pitfalls abound.
A dedicated fund for parks would be administered by a state agency, no matter how many locks you put on the box. So some governor can come along and raid it anyway. History has shown that already, by repeated raids on the Environmental Protection Fund. (bolding mine)
As I mentioned in earlier posts here, it turns out that parks are incredibly popular with the people of this state. Yes, they are willing to pay for them, just as other groups have been willing to be taxed for other dedicated funds. People do understand when it comes to things like that. Snowmobilers in this state lobbied for increased registration fees on snowmobiles to fund snowmobile trail maintenance. Yes, they benefited, but so do other trail users, since the trails are multi-purpose. Kennel owners did not complain when a fee was placed on state kennel licenses, to help fund low-cost spay/neuter programs. Having a dedicated revenue source for state parks? That should be an easy sell – but it won’t be. That is because previous – and the current – administrations have abused the public’s willingness to trust when it comes to creating a dedicated fund.
Each of the examples I mentioned in the previous paragraph are supposedly “locked box” funds for a specific purpose. All of them have been raided – sometimes repeatedly – by governors (and legislatures) looking for a quick budget fix. Even in good years, instead of dedicated, some have been treated as a handy source of “off-budget” funding for some pet project. Which is why it’s going to be a tough sell to the taxpayers of this state to create a dedicated funding source for parks. It’s not that many will be against the idea, it’s that they want it to be strictly for the parks, and they don’t think it will be.
New York has had a history of creating what are supposed to be “locked boxes” – dedicated funds created for a specific purpose. It’s also had a history of unlocking those funds on a regular basis. It’s time to start relocking the locked boxes. I have no specific ideas to propose, but I do know that I’m tired of finding out that things we’re supposed to be paying for aren’t getting done, because a governor had a key and some sticky fingers, and the money isn’t there.