Dedicated Funding for Conservation

Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act

It has been nearly 20 years since Georgians have been able to voice their support for land and water conservation funding in our state. In that time, Georgia has seen recession, severe drought and new questions regarding how to best conserve our land and water as populations continue to grow.

With the goal of conserving Georgia’s precious natural resources – its people, jobs, land and water – through a sustainable source of funding for land and water conservation, The Georgia Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, Georgia Wildlife Federation, The Conservation Fund and Park Pride joined forces in 2010 as a coalition advocating for dedicated conservation funding.

Our state currently lacks a dedicated funding mechanism for the conservation for priority lands, the stewardship of state parks and wildlife management areas, and the support of local parks and preserves – the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (GOSA) seeks to change that.

Children play in the old-growth forest of Briarlake Forest Park, 2016
Children play in the old-growth forest of Briarlake Forest Park, 2016

 

In March, during the 2017 Legislative Session, the Georgia House of Representatives unanimously approved House Bill 332, GOSA. The legislation proposes that up to .4% of existing state sales tax collections be dedicated to the protection of the state’s water, wildlife and quality of life!

The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act

Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act seeks to:

  • Dedicate up to .4% of existing state sales tax collections for the purpose of the protection and preservation of conservation land;
  • Maintain and improve access to wildlife management areas, create additional opportunities for hunting and fishing, and ensure that outdoor enthusiasts, families and children can enjoy the outdoors whatever activity they choose;
  • Protect lands critical to clean drinking water and the quality of Georgia’s lakes, rivers and streams;
  • Acquire and improve parks and trails in cities and counties throughout the state;
  • Allow for long range planning as well as the ability to address immediate conservation needs;
  • Help the state attract more private and philanthropic conservation investment.

The legislation proposes an initial dedicated amount of approximately $20 million annually. From within the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, dollars would also be made available in each fiscal year for loans to any city, county, or nongovernmental entity to defray the costs of acquisition of conservation land or of conservation easements placed upon property that ensure its permanent protection as conservation land.

To allow for the dedicated allocation of tax revenue, the Constitution of Georgia would first have to be amended and the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act would seek to accomplish this through the creation of a ballot initiative presented to Georgia voters during the fall 2018 election cycle. House Resolution 238 introduces this ballot initiative.

Funding created by this legislation would be additive to existing federal conservation funding and state license fees and could only be used for projects approved by the Department of Natural Resources and consistent with the state’s established goals for conservation. The legislation provides the General Assembly with the ability to adjust the amount of dedicated funding up or down based upon fluctuations in the state’s economy and overall revenue collections. It also includes a sunset provision, with the eligibility to ask voters to approve an extension after ten years.

Park Pride and our coalition partners support the passage of the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act and thank sponsors Rep. Sam Watson, Rep. Jon Burns, Rep. Lynn Smith, Rep. Chad Nimmer and Rep. Spencer Frye for its introduction. We believe that the protection of our natural resources should not suffer during economic up-and-downs and that a dedicated and sustainable source of funding for land and water conservation will not only prove beneficial to our state’s environment, but also to our economy.

Why is GOSA Important?

In a recent poll, over 80% agreed that a portion of the state budget should be used to safeguard our land and waters.

  • Georgia’s population is projected to grow 46% by the year 2030. We must take steps to protect our land and waters before it is too late.
  • Land and water conservation measures are critical to Georgia’s $71.1 billion agriculture and $15 billion forestry industries,which support over 425,000 jobs.
  • Georgia’s outdoor recreation industry, the 5th largest in the nation, generates over $23 billion for our economy and supports over 230,000 jobs.
  • Over 3 million visitors and residents participate in outdoor and wildlife recreation activities each year, generating $1.4 billion in tax revenues for state and local governments.
  • Every $1 invested in land returns $5 in natural goods and services such as flood protection, water and soil quality and air pollution removal.
  • Parks and trails provide opportunities for fitness and exercise, helping address Georgia’s growing obesity crisis, which raises health care costs by $4.4 billion every year.