Let’s hope legislators listen to snowmobilers’ voices
Just two days shy of the release of Gov. Walker’s proposed budget, snowmobilers still had no word, no hint, at what may be coming. For those of us in the snowmobile community, the governor’s budget has not been a high priority in the past. With Gov. Walker’s veto of the funding for our SnowTRAC program, that has changed.
Last month’s SnowRider featured a Q&A session with Gov. Walker that included background on his snowmobile experiences (I didn’t know about his Arctic Man past) and made good points filling in a lot of background on the governor that isn’t common knowledge.
More important to those of us in the organized snowmobile community, SnowRider’s Andy Hall got right down to business in relation to the future of state support for snowmobiling. As each of you know, Gov. Walker has vetoed the appropriation portion of the SnowTRAC program for the future. There is leftover 2016 funding that is being used this season, but without a change in the administration’s position, that will signal the end of a cooperative program that has supported and elevated trails and grooming across the entire state.
For 20 years, the administration has worked with the Legislature to return our fees back to our community. We are aware of the Constitutional requirement for all funds to be deposited into the general fund. As you consider other “dedicated funding sources,” i.e. bed taxes, dock fees, Fish and Game fees, it is obvious that there is a mechanism in place to allocate fees that are levied on those activities.
That mechanism needs to work for us as well. The snowmobilers of this state have struggled to level the playing field for a couple decades. This self-funded program was, and is, the only program in the entire state that provides a revenue source to maintain, create and protect snowmobile trails in Alaska.
With the change of leadership in Juneau, the pendulum has shifted away from our normal supporters in the Legislature. With the lack of leadership and success so far, I am not sure that is such a bad thing. With two or three exceptions, both sides of the aisle there mimic the administration’s grip-and-grin style of telling us what we want to hear, and then not following through.
Barring the state doing the right thing, we will need to look at alternate sources of program administration and funding. One of the best examples in any area that I have traveled to is the Caribou Hills/Homer Snomads cooperative grooming and fundraising programs. They use a combination of business support, pull tab revenues, grant administration and business support that has created an outstanding system of trails and volunteer groomers who have created a world-class system of trails for their supporters. It may be time to slot out some time, and with their support, send some folks down to document and attempt to replicate this success in other parts of the state. The Big Lake trails committee, the Fairbanks Snowtravelers and other organizations also have experience and success stories to share.
Snowmobiling in Alaska is going to change radically in the next few years. Figuring out how those changes will affect our winter choices is going to be up to us. There really isn’t anyone out there looking out for us, there never has been. That isn’t a complaint, it is a rallying cry for each of us to make a difference in our area that can and will affect the whole. You have heard it from us before, the future of snowmobiling in Alaska is, as always, up to us. It is time to recommit and move the needle toward our end once again.
— Kevin Hite, president, Alaska State Snowmobile Association