ALBANY - State Sen. Cathy Young accused Governor David Paterson of "raiding" the state's dedicated snowmobile fund Thursday.
As proposed, Paterson's budget moves $1 million from the Snowmobile Trail Development and Maintenance Fund into the state's general fund.
By moving the money, Young said Paterson is breaking a promise he made in 2008 to use snowmobile registration fees solely for the promotion and improvement of snowmobiling in the state.
According to a spokesperson for the governor, the money will still be used to cover snowmobile-related expenses - just not trail maintenance.
As explained by Jessica Bassett, spokesperson for the division of budget, the money will be used to cover such things as maintenance of parking lots at trail heads, staffing and public safety.
"That deals with speed enforcement on trails, dealing with anyone driving under the influence and other issues," Bassett said. "Those are some of the related costs that are not directly trail maintenance."
CHANGING THE LAW
Young is not only calling on Paterson to stop the "raid" of the snowmobile fund, but criticizing a proposal made by the governor to change the fund's scope and purpose.
Taking money from the snowmobile fund is nothing new for the state. Currently, the state is allowed to use up to 30 percent of the snowmobile fund. That money, however, has to be used for expenses related to trail maintenance. A budget amendment proposed by Paterson would rewrite the law to allow for the state to use that 30 percent of the fund for other snowmobiling costs - such as public safety.
"The governor made a promise in 2008 to keep his hands out of the cookie jar and use this fund solely for promoting and improving snowmobiling in this state," Young said. "Sadly, the governor has broken that promise and sees this dedicated fund as just one more source of income to fill budget holes.
"Snowmobile registration fees are supposed to be dedicated toward trail maintenance and development, which in turn boosts our economy," Young continued. "Snowmobiling is a big business because it attracts so many visitors who stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants, shop in our stores and buy our gas."
According to Young, expanding the purpose of the fund will mean money which should be spent on trail maintenance will instead go to pay for other recreational activities on state land.
Whereas fees paid by snowmobilers presently fund costs directly related to snowmobiling, Young said the governor's proposal would allow for their money to be spent on the maintenance or development of hiking trails, tennis courts, snowplowing equipment, road re-pavement, or any state park facility used to supplement recreational activity.
"There have been improvements and increases in funding for the trails over the last few years, but only because snowmobilers agreed to have their registration fees increased with the expectation that the funds be used solely for the benefit of the industry," said Sen. Young. "This is a pure money grab that will further cripples upstate's economic recovery."
The proposed change to the snowmobile fund has to be taken in the context of the state's budget situation, according to Bassett.
"The state is facing a more than $8 billion budget deficit and this is part of reimbursing the state for those costs that were not originally paid for," Bassett said. "We feel we have costs that are coming from other parts of the budget that are related to the trails, so this is part of closing the gap."
Bassett added that because of the state's situation, Paterson was faced with a number of difficult choices when crafting the 2011 budget - and this is one of those situations.
"Again, I would just stress that it's a really difficult budget," Bassett said. "It's a budget that we hope makes some of the long-term changes, some smart recurring changes to help put the state back on track in terms of finances. When you're facing an $8 billion budget deficit, though, there are a lot of hard choices."