All of these are likely if the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet is burdened with the severe budget reductions proposed over this biennium by the General Assembly.
While much attention has been paid to the effects of budget cuts on more popular programs, little has been paid to the significant impacts that budget-cutting has had and will have on the agency charged with the protection of the quality of Kentucky's environment.
The proposed reductions contained in the House budget will have a significant negative effect on an agency that has already suffered cuts and is called upon to do so much with too little, protecting at short pay the very building blocks of a healthy state and a healthy economy.
It is important that the capacity of the agency to protect the public and environment over the long-term not be damaged in a legislative effort to address budget shortfalls while avoiding politically difficult decisions concerning taxation. Your help is needed top prevent that damage.
The Governor's budget proposal for Fiscal Years 2003 and 2004 contained a total funding for all of the state's environmental programs, including the Environmental Quality Commission and Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission, of $172.4 million dollars and $181.5 million, respectively. The proposed House budget provides less, at $170.9 million in FY 03 and 176 million in FY 04. Actual state General Fund support of the environment is only a fraction of that, (65 million in FY 03 and FY 04) since some $66 million for each year is in federal support and 38-45 million is from restricted funds. And there is concern that a Senate that includes some members hostile to various environmental programs may further cut the budget, and may target important agencies such as the Environmental Quality Commission (whose budget is 262.5 thousand in FY 03 and 276,300 in FY 04).
What can be done?
1. Adjust Permit Fees To Fully Capture Costs Of Permit Review & Compliance
The House and Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committees can end the subsidization of pollution permits by requiring, as part of the budget resolution, that the permit fees for each permitting program be adjusted upwards in order to fully capture the actual costs of processing the permit applications and of periodic compliance inspections required to be conducted during the permit term.
Currently, most permit fees, which are set by statute, capture only a small fraction of the real costs of processing, reviewing, and issuing or denying the applications. This failure to pay the real costs of the government service amounts to a pollution subsidy that the state can ill-afford. All costs associated with permit review and compliance inspections should be paid, and those funds should be returned to the agency.
2. Protect EQC From Disproportionate Cuts
The Environmental Quality Commission, an advisory body attached to the Natural Resources Cabinet, has been an important sounding-board for environmental issues - providing a public forum on major environmental issues; and producing the only barometer of environmental progress in its State of the Environment reports. The Commission has been subject to periodic assaults on its budget by special interests, and there is apparently some sentiment in the Senate to use the current budget shortfalls as an artifice to eliminate EQC, although the Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Sanders has expressed support for the agency.
The House Budget includes continued funding for EQC. The Senate should do no less.
What you can do:
The House is scheduled to vote on the budget on Tuesday, after which it will be considered and modified by the Senate, resulting in a conference committee with the next two weeks to resolve the differences. Contact your state senator and representative, and also contact House and Senate leadership, and ask them to adjust permit fees to offset the real costs of permitting and to end the pollution subsidy, and to prevent the use of the budget process as a way to eliminate the EQC.
The House leadership are Jody Richards, Larry Clark, Greg Stumbo, Joe Barrows, Jim Callahan, Jeff Hoover, Bob DeWeese and Ken Upchurch. The Senate leaders are David Williams, Richard Roeding, Dan Kelly, Charlie Borders, Elizabeth Tori, Ed Worley, Johnnie Turner and Bob Jackson. A single fax, containing their names on the cover sheet, can be sent to 502-564-6543, and messages can be left toll free at 1-800-372-7181.