Budget calls for six years of funding for sled trails, safety
Just when you think you have the mechanisms of our local and state politicians (I almost screwed up and wrote “leadership”) figured out, they go and throw a curveball into the system. For those of you who actually suffer through my editorials each month, you know that last month’s edition mentioned that Gov. Walker had not submitted his budget to the Legislature to begin the wrangling between elected bodies as to how best to spread out a $4 billion deficit.
As you also know, Gov. Walker vetoed the funding transfer for the registration money to the snowmobile community program known as SnowTRAC. This program, started in 1997, was the primary source of grooming, trail easement, safety and education programs in Alaska. It was funded by an appropriation from the Legislature equal to the number of registrations for snowmobiles in Alaska. From communications with the administrations, including an interview with this magazine, the general consensus was that the outlook was not good going forward for this program funding to be restored.
In the past, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources administered the program and was required to include it in their budget and then go to Juneau to request this portion of their funding. At that time, the Legislature sent an appropriation to DNR for its budget that included the SnowTRAC funds. While the registration was required by law, there was no formal mechanism for this transfer back to the program. It relied on the communication and cooperation between DNR, the snowmobile community and the Legislature.
In what I can only describe as pulling a rabbit out of the hat, the Walker administration has included in the FY2018 budget a request that appropriates $250,000 a year for the next six years to the DNR, Department of Parks and Recreation, specifically for SnowTRAC’s continuance.
At no time in the past has this self-funded program ever had a specific appropriation for current and future program viability. While the amount of funding is consistent with the historical norms, and we will very certainly be working toward increasing that amount, this appropriation keeps this program alive.
Having said that, and with a tip of my helmet to Gov. Walker (along with some determined legislative help) the appropriation status of this program will be a key ingredient to the conversation we have been having concerning increasing the registration fees to provide more funding for trail programs in Alaska. We have went from having our fees totally absorbed by the state, to a concrete mechanism to continue the work all of us have done.
Still critical in our sport is the cooperation and sharing of ideas for funding these projects. This gives us a bit of breathing room to recommit to the work of making this project work for everyone in the state, and to supplement the pressure to increase registration fees to provide the resources to really make this a project worthy of an Alaska Snowmobile Trail system.
While this appropriation is in the budget request, keep in mind that we can impact the above-mentioned wrangling by making sure each of your legislators knows that you support this portion of the Governor’s proposed budget. Keep making those calls. It makes a difference.
— Kevin Hite
President, Alaska State Snowmobile Association