NY State Plastic Bag Fee Proposed For Underfunded State Parks
NY State Senator Jose M. Serrano has proposed legislation which would set a charge on single-use grocery store bags, which the purchaser could avoid by choosing to use a reusable bag. The program, "Pennies for Parks" would generate much needed funding for State Parks.
"The program could generate up to $70 million a year for our persistently underfunded state parks, while simultaneously reducing the number of bags that end up in landfills, and often times on our trees and in our waterways," - Senator Jose M. Serrano.
Two years ago we experienced a statewide budget impasse that threatened the Memorial Day opening of many of our state parks. Although we've thus far avoided widespread closures, service reductions have become the norm for these struggling facilities, according to an Op-Ed published in The Times Union.
With a backlog of more than $1 billion in capital rehabilitation and repair projects, parks have struggled over the past few years to provide the public with even the most essential services -- like functioning restrooms. Most recently, Hurricane Irene left a devastating footprint on our already stretched parks system. Trees were uprooted, lakes and rivers flooded, and cabins destroyed.
We must develop a sensible solution to provide a new revenue stream for our state parks. That's why Assemblyman Steven Englebright, D-Suffolk County, a member of the Assembly Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development Committee, and I recently introduced legislation to create the "Pennies for Parks" program. It would set a charge on single-use grocery store bags, which the purchaser could avoid by choosing to use a reusable bag.
The program could generate up to $70 million a year for our persistently underfunded state parks, while simultaneously reducing the number of bags that end up in landfills, and often times on our trees and in our waterways.
New York boasts one of the most remarkable state park systems in the nation -- from Niagara Falls to the beaches on Long Island and Roberto Clemente Park in the Bronx. New Yorkers came out in droves in 2010 to display their enthusiasm for state parks, setting record-breaking attendance numbers.
Yet in 2011, attendance seems to have dropped. This is likely because of another grueling year of service reductions and the additional issues stemming from Hurricane Irene, which brought the summer to an early end for many parkgoers.
In a perfect world, Federal Emergency Management Agency funding would be used to cover all of the damage from the storm. Unfortunately, money is already spread so thin that it's unlikely that much FEMA funding, if any, will be used for the much-needed repairs.
Instead, the new problems will be added to the growing list of necessary parks capital projects -- a list that is likely to continue growing until some parks are eventually forced to close for safety reasons.
Polling conducted by Alliance for New York State Parks shows that a whopping 73 percent of New Yorkers support a charge on plastic bags, provided the generated funds are dedicated to keeping state parks open and well-maintained.
It's not enough to simply love our state parks; we must also take meaningful steps to keep them funded and well-maintained. Allowing them to continue to fall into disrepair will have a significant adverse effect on the financial and natural health of our state.
Pennies for Parks will not only be an effective way to combat the plastic bag epidemic affecting many of our communities, but will also allow future generations to enjoy all of the recreational possibilities offered by our state park system.