Open spaces are critical to our environment. Forests and other natural resources act as "carbon sinks," absorbing harmful carbon emissions from our atmosphere and helping to fight climate change. At the same time, our parks, trails, farms, greenways, and historical sites are key to higher home values and a better quality of life.
Not all undeveloped land is considered protected open space. Much of it will eventually be developed. In order to maintain Connecticut's natural diversity, wildlife habits, and scenic charm, we must balance economic development with land conservation.
Connecticut set a goal of preserving 21% of our land as open space by 2033. In order to reach this benchmark, we must act now to preserve our farms, parks, trails, and natural resources.
MUNICIPAL FUNDING OPTION
Town and municipalities need a sustainable source of funds in order to acquire dedicated open space, preserve farmland, and protect historic sites. While there are some federal and state grants available, most require matching local dollars.
Furthermore, some of these grants have seen dramatic cuts in recent years. In 2016, Governor Malloy cut the Community Investment Act's funding for open space in half. And in 2018, the United States Congress let the Land and Water Conservation Fund—our nation's most important parks program—expire.
The burden to preserve our open space is increasingly placed on towns and municipalities. In 2017, State Reps. Linda Orange (D-Colchester,) Kevin Ryan (D-Montville), and Joseph Gresko (D-Stratford) introduced a bill that would give towns and municipalities the option of assessing a 1% fee on real estate property purchases over $150,000 for the purchase of dedicated open space.
This conveyance would not be statewide. Rather, municipalities would have the option of joining a pilot program to study the impacts and benefits of using real estate sales for the acquisition of open space.
Similar programs in Long Island have met with great success, improving quality of life and even lowering taxes.
This pilot program would allow municipalities to raise the required local funds to participate in open space grants and preserve the natural resources we rely on for our quality of life.
Enacted with tremendous bipartisan support in 2005, the Community Investment Act (CIA) provides a dedicated and consistent source of funding for state preservation of open space, farmland, and historic sites. Funds can also be used to develop affordable housing and make important municipal improvements.
The CIA has leveraged millions in private and public dollars, all while preserving and reinvesting in Connecticut’s rich character. Despite its success, the CIA fund is consistently targeted to close budget gaps. Due to years of cuts and diversions, agencies have been forced to work with reduced funds, resulting in a growing list of unfunded needs and projects across the state.
In 2015, the legislature passed a measure to divert 50% of recording fee revenue from CIA accounts. In 2016, the final budget agreement swept unallocated funds from CIA accounts to remedy general revenue shortfalls. In 2017, although full funding was restored July 1st, the CIA once again suffered a $5 million cut as part of deficit mitigation adjustments. The good news is that the 2018 state budget adjustments did not include additional cuts.
Though the General Assembly must make difficult decisions to balance the state budget, the CIA has already paid a steep price these past several years, and lawmakers must not authorize additional cuts.
Every year the Connecticut General Assembly votes to convey land or grant easements to residents or businesses through deals negotiated by state agencies, usually the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). These land deals are usually pushed through in the dark of night, without ample time for the public to review or comment on them.
In 2018, the General Assembly passed a bill to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November. This amendment, which passed with overwhelming public support, prohibits the legislature from enacting any legislation requiring a state agency to sell, transfer, or otherwise dispose of public lands unless a committee has held a public hearing regarding such sale.
This amendment now ensures that people know how their lands are being used, sold, and traded. Your parks, beaches, and woodlands shouldn't be given away without your input, and now they won't be.