In conjunction with the summer meeting of executive and general board members, VIRGINIAforever facilitated a roundtable discussion with Matt Strickler, Secretary of Natural Resources, and Bettina Ring, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry. The discussion focused on priorities for the secretariats and how the natural resources community can work together to increase funding for land conservation and water quality improvement in the Commonwealth. Thank you to Secretary Strickler, Secretary Ring and VIRGINIAforever members for a robust and educational discussion.
–But we have work to do on the land conservation front.–
The 2018 General Assembly was one of the longest on record, extending past its scheduled mid-March adjournment to late May. Thus, the State’s new two-year budget – and knowing what natural resources funding would be – was very late being finalized.
But good things come to those who wait. This year, VIRGINIAforever saw a number of its budget wishes fulfilled, especially in water quality.
More Money for Water Quality
VIRGINIAforever successfully lobbied for $20 million to be invested in the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF), a State grant program to help localities design and construct new or renovated stormwater facilities. A coalition including the Virginia Municipal League, the Virginia Association of Counties and numerous individual localities was assembled to lobby for new SLAF investments. This $20 million is on top of the $80 million in SLAF funding VIRGINIAforever has helped secure over the past five years.
Additionally, VIRGINIAforever joined the agriculture industry and soil and water conservation districts in lobbying for a new revenue stream for agricultural BMPs – specifically, about $2.6 million per year from unrefunded marine fuels sales taxes. (This is money that’s sitting in an account and is rarely touched.)
Other water quality funds that were proposed and which VIRGINIAforever supported included $22.5 million for the Water Quality Improvement Fund to support nonpoint source projects, $17 million for Ag BMP cost-share (programs partnering with farmers and others to reduce agricultural runoff to local streams and rivers) and $2.4 million for soil and water conservation districts to provide technical assistance to the ag community.
Some New Funding to Land Conservation Programs, Some Program Cuts Avoided
In recent years, the General Assembly has had a tougher time getting behind significant new investments in land conservation programs and initiatives.
While the General Assembly did not approve any new funding this year for the Virginia Land Conservation Fund, they did provide $4.5 million to VLCF next year. VLCF works with landowners to preserve forestlands, working farmlands, historical lands, and open spaces.
Also this year, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation – the State’s leading land conservation agency – was slated to see a $2 million cut to their operational funds. VIRGINIAforever joined with Virginia’s United Land Trusts and others to protest such a devastating budget cut. In the end, VOF only saw a $250,000 budget cut in each of the next two years.
No matter how it’s sliced, the General Assembly is generally more agreeable to additional water quality investments than land conservation investments. And therein lies one of VIRGINIAforever’s lobbying and public education goals in the years to come.
In the second quarter of 2018, VIRGINIAforever welcomed Seale & Associates, represented by Pat Coady on the general board. In other board member news, Kyle Shreve is now representing the Virginia Agribusiness Council on the executive board. For information on becoming a member of VIRGINIAforever, please contact Info@virginiaforever.org.
Hosted by Virginia Military Institute, Environment Virginia is the state’s premier natural resources meeting, featuring presentations highlighting trends and news impacting the Commonwealth’s land, water and air. This spring, VIRGINIAforever members along with several partners participated in a presentation and panel at Environment Virginia titled “Virginia Natural Resources Funding.” Moderated by VIRGINIAforever lobbyist Missy Neff and led by Jim Regimbal of Fiscal Analytics, the presentation focused on a study commissioned in 2017 by VIRGINIAforever with a grant from the Virginia Environmental Endowment. The study found that Virginia has been spending about one percent of available state revenues on natural resources, ranking near the bottom when compared to other states. Panelists included Pam Faggert of Dominion Energy; Matt Wells of WestRock; Peggy Sanner of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; and Joseph Maroon of the Virginia Environmental Endowment.
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