JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING THE FISCAL SUSTAINABILITY OF STATE PARKS.
Joint Favorable Substitute
SPONSORS OF BILL:
REASONS FOR BILL:
The bill seeks to provide additional revenue sources for state parks that will allow for improved operation and maintenance, as well as providing resources that will allow for long-term sustainability. Currently, Connecticut's 107 state parks receive only $11.5 million for their operational budget and generate only 2 percent of their revenue from concessions – a figure that ranks 39th out of 48 states that produce concessions revenue. There is also no mechanism to ensure that fees and contributions collected at or on behalf of state parks are reinvested into the operation and maintenance of these parks.
Strikes sections 6 and 7 from the bill, including a provision in section 6 requiring the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to remit 10 percent of revenue generated from food concession contracts at state parks to the Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Creates a new Section 6 that requires individuals who have contracts with DORS for state park vending or food services to report their calendar year revenue generated from said contract. DORS are then mandated to report this information to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection by January 1, 2016. The section also requires DEEP to compile a report of the number of food service and vending facilities, revenue figures as reported by DORS, contractual provisions regarding payment of said revenues to the state, revenues actually paid to the state and how said revenues were actually utilized.
Creates a new Section 7 requiring DEEP to develop a request for information pertaining to the operation of concessions, services and recreational amenities at state parks, and directing DEEP to forward said RFI to private vendors who provide said services.
Creates a new section – Section 10 – mandating that DEEP collect parking fees at shoreline state parks on a daily basis throughout the month of September.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Concettina Rafala, State Rehabilitation Council Chairperson – Department of Rehabilitation Services/BESB: In her testimony, Ms. Rafala expressed her opposition to Section 6 of the bill and stated that the section would put three blind business owners out of work. She added that the labor force participation rate for working-age individuals with disabilities is only 31 percent – over 44 percent less than individuals without disabilities.
Ms. Rafala's concerns were addressed in the Substitute Language
Al Sylvestre, Advisory Board Chairman – Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind/DORS: Mr. Sylvestre testified that Section 6 of the bill would undermine the federal Randolph-Sheppard Act, which gave blind people the chance to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities. He added that he hopes DEEP and DORS work together to improve the public's experience at state parks without excluding blind businesspeople.
Mr. Sylvestre's concerns were addressed in the Substitute Language
Jonathan Slifka, Governor's Liaison to the Disability Community – Office of Governor Dannel P. Malloy: Mr. Slifka testified that the Governor's Office has begun a dialogue with DORS and DEEP to address the Administration's concerns over Section 6, and requested more time for the parties to reach an agreement that would be fair to all parties.
Mr. Slifka's concerns were addressed in the Substitute Language
Commissioner Amy Porter, Department of Rehabilitation Services: the Department is opposed to Section 6 of the bill, which Commissioner Porter stated would “be the first restriction on the (Randolph-Sheppard Act's) benefits in Connecticut since its enactment over 65 years ago.”
Ms. Porter's concerns were addressed in the Substitute Language
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Amy Blaymore Paterson Esq., Executive Director – Connecticut Land Conservation Council: In her testimony, Ms. Paterson stated that the bill provides “creative mechanisms” to have funds dedicated towards state parks, including the creation of a State Parks Sustainability account.
Eileen Grant – Friends of CT State Parks Board of Directors: Ms. Grant testified that the bill offers a “suite of new initiatives and modifications” that could enhance state parks funding. She applauded the bill's creation of a $5 charitable donation for future car registrations that citizens can opt out of, and estimates this could generate in the neighborhood of $2.7 million per year.
Eric Hammerling, Executive Director – Connecticut Forest and Park Association: Mr. Hammerling stated that over 8 million people visit state parks every year, generating over $1 billion and 9,000 jobs. He added that since over $38 is returned to the state for every $1 invested, making state parks sustainable should be an immediate priority.
Leah Schmalz, Program Director – Connecticut Fund for the Environment: Ms. Schmalz testified in strong support of establishing a State Parks Sustainability account, but cautioned that such an account should not be construed as a replacement for General Fund allocations. She also expressed support for the $5 opt-out donation program and for enhanced transparency regarding usage of the revenues collected.
Margaret Miner, Executive Director – Rivers Alliance of Connecticut: Ms. Miner reiterated key points regarding revenue generation and job creation expressed by Ms. Grant and Mr. Hammerling, adding that state parks are a “major environmental and economic asset to Connecticut.”
Pamela Adams, President – Friends of CT State Parks: Ms. Adams testified that an opt-out donation on motor vehicle registration for state parks has proven successful in six other states. She also supported the concept of directing concessions revenues to state parks while still providing support for DORS, and expressed that everything possible be done to ensure that money in the State Park Sustainability account not be swept for other purposes.
● Increase the $5 donation to a higher amount to further support state park sustainability
● Add the word “only” in Section 5 (2) between “to provide” and “for” in order to certify that funds will be used only for the parks
Flo Vannoni, Redding Resident: Ms. Vannoni stressed that the creation of a “lockbox” to protect funds in the Sustainability account is vital towards ensuring parks have the proper funding they need.
General support for the bill was also expressed by the following individuals:
Clarinda Higgins, Westport
Hugh Karraker, Redding
Mariliz Licata, Norwalk
Roseann Sholanich, Stratford
Nancy Watson, Greenwich
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Barbara Cloonan, Chairperson – Deaf/Blind Advisory Committee: Ms. Cloonan expressed her opposition to Section 6 of the bill, stating that the number of unemployed and underemployed individuals in Connecticut is very high. She added her concerns that the Section would not only result in the loss of three jobs but also “put an end” to future blind operators in state parks.
Ms. Cloonan's concerns were addressed in the Substitute Language
The following individuals expressed opposition to Section 6 identical to that expressed by Ms. Cloonan and the agency officials:
Brandy Altergott, Concession Vendor – Gillette Castle State Park
Chris Kuell, Danbury
Diane Weaver Dunne, Executive Director – CRIS Radio
Jim Ferguson, Facility Operator – Rocky Neck State Park
Justin Salisbury, Connecticut Association of Blind Students
Keith Haley, Elm Street Grille
Mark Dombkowski, Concessions Operator – Hammonasset State Park
Pamela Garde, Newington
Maryanne Melley, National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut
Mary Silverberg, West Hartford
The concerns of all these individuals and the organizations (if any) that they represent were addressed in the Substitute Language
Reported by: Jared Savas
Date: March 26, 2015