Florida’s State Parks, which attract 31 million visitors a year and pump more than $2.8 billion into the state’s economy, face a potentially crippling $10 million budget cut if the Florida House of Representatives’ proposed budget is approved.
“Cutting funding for state parks is a bad idea, for many reasons,” said Paula Russo, President of Friends of Florida State Parks, a nonprofit organization that supports the park system through education, preservation and financial efforts. “Our state parks attract tourists and residents alike; they are a key cog in Florida’s economic engine.”
According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, $191.6 million of the $2.8 billion Florida State Parks contributed to Florida’s economy in fiscal 2016 was general revenue, meaning the parks helped support other programs. Florida State Parks also were responsible for 45,525 local jobs.
“Our award-winning state parks are one of Florida’s main economic drivers,” Russo said. “People travel to Florida to visit these treasures. They spend money and pay sales taxes. Allowing this cut jeopardizes Florida’s tourist economy unnecessarily and is a set-back in keeping our parks environments healthy and safe. It doesn't make sense.”
The $10 million cut, almost 25 percent of the current state parks budget, targets the parks’ land-management program and an 80% reduction in land-management funding. Land-management efforts restore and preserve the natural beauty of park property through removal of invasive and exotic plants, which choke out and kill native species; prescribed burns to reduce the threat of wildfires on park property, which would also threaten residential and commercial developments near parks; and habitat preservation for endangered species. Since January, more than 126,000 acres have burned across the state. Today, 110 wildfires are burning over 20,000 acres across Florida. Cutting our prescribed fire management program places our parks in unnecessary jeopardy.
Also on the House’s budgetary chopping block are $2 million in land-management funds for the state’s Water Management Districts. The Senate budget does not include cuts to state parks, but it does not increase funding. Gov. Rick Scott’s budget, however, calls for a 17 percent increase over the current budget.
The $50 million the governor has requested for state parks would be used for management, facility improvements and park enhancements, including $4 million to make the parks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act; $2.7 million for fire equipment; $1.9 million for road repairs; and $1 million for the Parks and Community Trails program.
“I urge everyone who loves our state parks to contact their state legislators and encourage them to vote for the governor’s budget,” Russo said. “At minimum, please ask them to restore state park funding to the current 2017 level. This is the cost of doing business, and the parks more than pay for themselves, many times over.”
View the document here.