The legislative season for FWSP has started, coinciding with the 2022-21 State Budget. Budget hearings were held virtually in late 2020/early 2021 by the Executive branch. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) is holding in-person hearings across the state. Policy Committee submitted FWSP legislative priorities to the JFC. The proposed budget includes a big raise for Stewardship but is unlikely to pass the legislature in the current form. There is an increase in Friends Group Grants from $250K to $1M in the proposed budget.
The Policy Committee will focus on educating members of the Joint Finance Committee and other key legislators on state land needs.
The Policy Committee will release a position paper with key priorities/talking points during the budget process. This will be promoted via different methods. We will be asking FWSP Board members and Friends Groups to contact their legislators.
FWSP 2021-22 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES-SHORT TERM
- Increase or eliminate spending authority for Parks. The legislature controls how much revenue parks can spend from the Segregated Parks Fund. Most states don’t have this restriction. Parks have increasing revenue but can’t spend it due to legislative control. It would be valuable for Parks to have this flexibility. This may allow Parks to hire more naturalists and educators to enhance visitor experiences.
- FWSP recommends increasing electrical campsites from 35% to 50% to meet public demand. Current statutes limit how many campsites have electrical access. No park can have more than half of its sites electrical and no more than 35% of the entire state park campsite inventory can be electrified.
- FWSP supports re-authorization of the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program at or above current levels including Friends Group Grant Increase to $1M annually
- Support 4th Grade State Parks Admission. Governor’s Budget includes a gratis annual state parks admission sticker for families of 4th graders.
LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES-LONG TERM
- Work with DNR and the legislature to develop sponsorship opportunities. This would allow DNR to identify donors by signage or other means for projects such as pavilions, visitor centers, trail and other infrastructure projects. Current capital deferred projects are estimated to be close to $1B. This item is much larger than Parks and would likely include all of the DNR. The UW system and Tourism already do this. It would be helpful to allow Parks to solicit donations similar to other agencies. Currently, Friends Groups are fundraising over $60M for projects. It would be supportive to network with Willow River, Lakeshore, and Devils Lake Friends Groups who are planning large capital projects
- The DNR should maintain responsibility for planning of department owned linear trails. The current agreements allow planning to be the responsibility of the local cooperator which has caused trail use to “flip” based on local situations. This is an untenable situation for local Friends Groups who have made a long term commitment to these state properties and for the long term stability of state trail system.
- Explore additional and sustainable funding sources for State Parks. These include tax initiatives and gaming proceeds for funding of capital development projects and operations. Endowments and other types of legacy funding are common in other state park systems.