By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, April 20, the Alabama House of Representative passed Senate Bill 260 which would prevent the legislature from looting State park funds like they have done in the past three years. Five of the 22 State parks were forced to close because millions of dollars in revenues generate from the state parks were rerouted by the budget committee to Medicaid and Corrections. SB260 was sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) and carried in the House by State Representative Kerry Rich (R-Albertville) who sponsored the House version, HB249.
Rep. Rich said in a statement, “Just gained final passage in the Alabama House of a Constitutional Amendment by myself and Senator Clay Scofield which protects funding for our State Parks. This is a major achievement for our Parks. This will be submitted to the voters for final approval in the November General Election. Thanks to everyone who assisted in this effort.”
State Representative Tim Wadsworth (R-Arley) said, “HB249 Bill for constitutional amendment to be voted on by citizens to prevent funds from being transferred from State Parks fund. Amendment offered and passed. SB260 which is the same bill is substituted with same amendment that caps the amount in reserve. If passed the bill would be a constitutional amendment to be voted on by the people. Passed.”
Conservation Alabama Executive Director Tammy Herrington said, “Again and again, Alabama voters stood up for our State parks. They made it clear that our parks should not be on the chopping block, and their unwavering support for our public lands made this victory possible.”
Since this is a constitutional amendment it does not go to the Governor. Instead Senate Bill 260 will go direct to the voters for an up or down vote in November.
Director Herrington said, “We’re celebrating this bill’s passage, but we have a lot more work to do. From now until November, Conservation Alabama will be working with voters across the state to make sure this amendment passes and our parks have the funding they need to stay open now and for generations to come.”
State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) supports SB260. Zeigler has been a vocal critic of the closing of the State parks by the Bentley administration last year. Zeigler said, “SB260 is the first step in my plan for the State parks. The parks internally generate around 85 percent of the money needed to operate. With tweaking, the parks can be self-funding, using NO tax dollars — requiring no money from the financially-strapped general fund. The Bentley administration would no longer be able to use the state parks as a political football, threatening closures if tax increases are not passed.”
The advocacy group Alabama State Parks Partners said in a statement. “The parks system has lost $15 million over the past 5 years in legislative transfers and can’t afford any others. We don’t want to see any other closures at our beloved State parks here in Alabama. Future generations should have access to these God-given natural resources and outdoor opportunities we’re blessed with here in Alabama.”
According to Conservation Alabama the parks preserve diverse habitats and ecosystems across the state and are economic drivers for the communities in which they are located. The group cited a 2014 study by the University of Alabama which calculated the economic impact of State parks to be $375 million annually.