John Griffin & Warren Brown
2022 is likely to be an unpredictable year during the General Assembly Sessions in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia for similar and distinct reasons. This is an election year in PA and MD. The Governors of both of these states are term limited, so both are in the last years of their second terms. Candidates are lining up to compete in primaries and general elections to succeed these outgoing governors. And in VA, a new governor was just sworn in to begin his one four-year term. There will be turnover in the Assemblies in PA and MD either because of retirements or defeats at the polls. This just happened as a result of the elections last year in VA. The Assembly majorities in the House swung back to the Republican Party, and in the Senate, the Democratic Party held on to remain the majority. These majorities were by slim margins.
The Assemblies in VA and MD convened their respective sessions on January 12th, and PA reconvened their session this month.
Here is a preview of important legislative and budgetary proposals (as of this writing) that would advance the mission and priorities of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership.
Pennsylvania Statehouse (Image by F. McGady via Wikimedia commons)
The Governor will not deliver his proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 until February. There are several significant legislative proposals pending in the Assembly.
- Both a Senate and House bill have been introduced to fund a third Growing Greener, at $500 million from the federal American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA). This is an omnibus program supporting environmental restoration, state parks and forests facility renewal, and land conservation including farmland preservation. $225 million of the total would be available to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for parks, and other outdoor recreation spaces, natural infrastructure and restoration, and land conservation.
- A Senate bill has been introduced that would waive the match requirement for municipalities below 80% of the state median household income under the Community Conservation Partnership Program. This program provides grants to local governments and nonprofits for trails, parks, recreation areas, river conservation and access, and conservation of open space. The funding amount will not be determined until the fall of this year.
- Both a Senate and House bill have been introduced proposing to allocate $250 million of ARPA to several current environmental restoration programs. One allocation is proposing that $25 million be allocated over four years for Penn Vest to purchase through pay-for-success procurements verified sediment and nutrient reductions to assist in meeting PA’s TMDL pollution reduction goals.
Maryland Statehouse (Image by Kevin Galens via Wikimedia commons)
The Governor’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 was delivered to the General Assembly on January 18th. Key budget increases proposed include:
- Full funding of MD’s Program Open Space (POS) and related conservation programs at a total of $263 million. This appropriation includes a $30.5 million repayment to POS that was scheduled by the General Assembly in 2016 in order to pay back funds previously diverted away from POS to the state’s General Fund. This legacy program created in 1969 is funded by a one half percent state real estate transfer tax. It allocates funding by percentages to various programs, including to the Department of Natural Resources and local governments for land acquisition and park improvements and contributes funding for state park operations, facility development, and maintenance. Other allocations support the Rural Legacy Program, the Agricultural Land Preservation Program, the Natural Heritage Conservation Fund and the Heritage Historic Preservation and Tourism Program.
Other conservation-related legislative proposals to be considered during the 90-day session include:
- An omnibus state park reinvestment proposal is being considered to implement many of the recommendations of an Assembly-appointed commission that issued its recommendations in November of last year. The legislation is expected to address funding for more park personnel, maintenance, and facility development. It may also set policy goals for expanded and new parks and trails, and improvements in many support functions.
- In response to the President’s America the Beautiful Plan and the science supporting it, a proposal to set land conservation goals of 30% of Maryland’s land base to be conserved by 2030 and 40% by 2040 is expected to be introduced.
- A proposal to establish a Green Space Equity Program is under consideration. This would allocate money from DNR’s share of open space funds to provide grants to land trusts working with underserved communities. Grant funds would be used to acquire lands immediately adjacent to the communities and to improve them as accessible open spaces.
- A proposal to establish a new version of a low-interest loan program called the “Land Trust Rapid Response Revolving Loan Fund Program.” The bill will be accompanied by a capitalization budget allocation.
- A new version of the 2021 Conservation Finance Act will be introduced in both the Senate and the House that seeks to attract additional private investments in environmental restoration and conservation to supplement public and philanthropic funding to assist in meeting MD’s Bay and climate goals. This year’s legislation amends various sections of state statute to authorize pay-for-success competitive procurement, defines environmental outcomes and green and blue infrastructure, authorizes the state revolving funds for clean water and safe drinking water to finance forest conservation and other related land conservation goals, and advances carbon offset policies on working lands.
- Bills are being introduced in the Senate and the House to enact the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act. This is a model statute from the Commission on Uniform State Laws and has been enacted in 18 states, including VA and New York two years ago. The legislation is pending before the DC City Council. The act addresses several of the major abuses related to the loss of generational lands owned primarily by low-income owners who did not have deeds and wills.
Virginia Statehouse (Image by Jim Bowen via Wikimedia commons)
- A Senate bill directs the Governor to include a $40 million recommended appropriation to the Virginia Land Conservation Fund (VLCF) in the budget bill or amendments there each year. The bill makes various changes to the allocation and use of funds for grants from the VLCF, including authorizations for grants to be made to federal and state-recognized Indian Tribes.
- A House bill is being considered that would create the Forest Sustainability Fund, to be administered by the State Forester. Localities that have adopted a use-value assessment and taxation program for real estate devoted to forest use are eligible to apply for an allocation from the Fund. Awards are proportionally based upon the amount of revenue forgone in the previous fiscal year by localities due to the use-value program
- A bill in the House would establish the Wildlife Corridor Grant Fund to provide grants for projects that reduce vehicle crashes involving wildlife and improve habitat connectivity for terrestrial and aquatic wildlife (incidentally the topic of our last lightning update).
- A House bill establishes the Virginia Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Historic Preservation Fund “for the purpose of awarding grants to eligible state-recognized and federally recognized Indian tribes, private nonprofit organizations, and localities for the eligible costs of acquiring land or permanent protective interest, and of undertaking preservation activities on such land, that is of cultural or historic significance to Black, indigenous, or people of color communities.”
- Several bills address permitting of solar facilities and would require, as a condition for a permit by rule for a small energy project, that the applicant conduct an analysis of the beneficial and adverse impacts of the proposed project on natural resources. The bill requires a mitigation plan if the Department of Environmental Quality determines that there will be a significant adverse impact on wildlife, historic resources, prime agricultural soils, or forest lands.
Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania are in relatively good financial condition this fiscal year and next due in large part to the influx of Federal dollars for economic recovery and infrastructure programs, and economic growth within each state. Virginia finished fiscal year 2021 with a budget surplus of $2.6 billion. Maryland is projecting a surplus of $583 million at the end of the next fiscal year and an ongoing structural surplus of $1.3 billion. Pennsylvania is projecting a $5-$6 billion surplus by the end of this fiscal year on top of a $7 billion surplus at the close of last fiscal year. The disposition of these funds will be a subject for future negotiations, but there is reason to be hopeful that land conservation in the Chesapeake watershed will benefit.
Lightning Update is a regular communication of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions of the Partnership or member organizations.
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