Can the governor dip into the ‘dedicated’ Conservation Fund now?

The NYS Conservation Fund?consisting primarily of revenue derived from sporting licenses, fees and special sales taxes?has historically been viewed as a dedicated fund which can only be used for fish and wildlife related conservation. Currently the $50M Fund has a surplus of about $9M, much of that generated from the hunting and fishing license fee hikes of two years ago. Despite the surplus, the Fund has been frozen, meaning the loss of some programs and personnel dependant on it for revenue. But now, faced with a staggering state budget deficit, it seems the governor and legislators’ fingers are itching to dip into that money

Somewhat ironic also is that the bill to create a mandatory NYS salt water fishing license was repealed. Previously the DEC’s Marine District budget ran about $9M, most of it coming from the, you guessed it, Conservation Fund. The license repeal – obviously politically motivated by affected downstate legislators – failed to consider that there was no targeted money in the General Fund to pay for the very Marine program services the new license would help fund.

Under the new State Budget directive, the comptroller is authorized and directed to transfer, at the request of the director of the budget, up to $38 million from the unencumbered balance of any special revenue fund or account, or combination of funds and accounts, to the community projects fund. Might that help fund an overburdened Medicaid system or pork projects? Regarding dipping into special funds, the Conservation Fund is given as an example. So this means that if the current pork fund of $136M is expended and there’s a surplus in, say, the Conservation Fund or the Surf Clam/Ocean Quahog Account or whatever, it’s OK, could those dollars could end up funding member items, whatever they might be? And with the current federal budget mess, chances are shortfalls from the feds could hasten the state’s need to dip into the dedicated funds that have surpluses.

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