We’re Halfway Home
By Mayor Victor Ashe
We’re halfway home on increased funding for parks and recreation programs in our cities and counties. With the House of Representatives vote last week to pass the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, the bill now goes to the Senate for debate and a vote.
Last year, Denver Broncos and MVP running back Terrell Davis and I came to Washington to testify before a Senate hearing to remind Congress about the importance of the federal commitment to support urban parks and open spaces.
In his testimony, Davis talked about growing up in San Diego, about his Pop Warner football experience on the playgrounds of his hometown, about the impact that opportunity had on his personal development. And to reinforce the point, the Super Bowl MVP brought along Frank Davis, his Pop Warner coach.
Terrell Davis brought to life a story that plays out in countless communities, for millions of young people. It is a story about open space and local parkland, about baseball diamonds, soccer fields and recreational centers, and about a vision.
That vision is linked to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and to the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program-the linchpins of a three-decade promise to protect and expand our parks, forests, seashores, and wildlife refuges.
For more than 30 years, these two programs have provided funds for recreation and conservation, drawing on revenues from non-renewable resources, from off-shore oil and gas leases. These programs were intended to be permanent, but in the early 1980s, the federal government fell into an ill-advised and counter-productive policy, peeling off much needed funding for other pursuits, often in the name of budget deficit reduction.
Where is the public sentiment on these close-to-home issues? The American people make the connection to parks and open space every day, and by every independent account, the support for the federal commitment is overwhelming.
A survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties showed that 71 percent of those asked believed the federal government should honor its commitment to use funds from off-shore gas and oil drilling to support local parks. A bipartisan survey of registered voters conducted by the Mellman Group and American Viewpoint showed clear majorities believed that government at all levels could do a better job creating parks and open spaces. The same survey revealed that by a 2-to-1 ratio, Americans supported a federal plan to use public funds to purchase and protect open space.
In this Congress, we’ve seen strong bipartisan support for fully funding these vital programs. The Conservation and Reinvestment Act, which passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly by a 315-102 vote, brought urban Democrats and Western Republicans together to pass this legislation the would protect our public lands, fund more parkland and provide the most comprehensive funding package for the environment in this decade. The bill would provide $125 million annually for the UPARR program and $450 million annually for the state and local assistance program of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
As the Senate begins its debate on this issue, it is time for the Congress and the President to restore full funding for LWCF and UPARR.
It is time for cities to have the wherewithal to provide the recreational opportunities our citizens are demanding. It is time for a renewal of the vision of a federal partnership that generates results-and a better quality of life-in every city, town and county in America.
"There is a great need for safe, clean fields and parks close to where families live," Terrell Davis told the Senate Energy and Resources Committee. "As I talk to coaches, parents and kids around the country, I can tell you there aren’t enough fields to go around."
This Congress can change that, can renew a historic commitment and can make the promise of local parks, and land and water conservation a reality. As we arrive in Seattle for our 68th Annual Conference of Mayors, I encourage you to bring copies of your letters to your Senators urging them to pass parks legislation. We can not let this once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve our parks and open spaces pass us by.