Snowmachiners shouldn’t pay price in budget deficit cuts
Budget cuts are always tough, but when they impact our snowmachine riding, that’s a really big deal. In June we learned that Gov. Bill Walker had vetoed funding to support the Alaska State SnowTRAC grant program. This program was established in 1997 to ensure that snowmachine registration dollars would support snowmachine-specific projects like grooming the trails as well as other safety projects relating to snowmachining.
In August a public hearing regarding the Alaska SnowTRAC grant, which is self-funded thanks to snowmachine registration fees, was held in Wasilla. Those in attendance seemed shocked and disappointed that the governor had vetoed this program and moved the dollars to the general fund. At the same time, they were relieved and grateful to learn that decision had been reversed – at least for this year.
While I believe everyone understands the challenges the governor faces in trying to balance the state budget in this tough economic time, taking the snowmachine registration funds away from the grant program seems dangerous and counter-productive to public safety.
I have devoted my life to saving lives through organizations such as the Alaska Avalanche Information Center. We have always encouraged riders to register their snowmachines because we believed the dollars help maintain the miles of trails, which make them much safer for riders, and to support other snowmachine-related safety projects like the new sign project proposed by the AAIC, which will give riders critical information when and where they need it.
However, if the decision is made to move these funds into the general fund and take away the grant in the future, we will no longer continue our efforts to encourage people to register their sleds because there will be no direct benefit to riders. Instead this will just be another tax.
The state has several unfunded mandates relating to snow safety in Alaska, and this was a small way to help satisfy at least one statute relating to safe trails. In a state where winter makes up more than half the year, where our rate of unintentional deaths relating to avalanche and snowmachine accidents is ranked No. 1 in the nation, and where we have no formalized state-supported snow safety program, taking away this one tiny pot of funding that was self-sustaining seems ludicrous and insensitive to the residents who often rely on snowmachines as their prime source of transportation and livelihood.
I strongly encourage the governor and all of our lawmakers to look carefully at the pros and cons of this issue before making any decisions relating to how the dollars raised are used. I would bet the more than 50,000 registered snowmachine riders in Alaska who support this program with their registration fees would agree.
At the AAIC the members and directors all believe that the long-term health and well being of everyone on this planet depends on outdoor activities such as snowmachining. We can only hope that those we vote into office also recognize the value in terms of state revenue and keeping Alaska healthy and thriving.
You can help make a difference by contacting your local legislators and the governor and telling them that more needs to be done to support snow sports in Alaska, not less. Only then will we be able to reverse the statistics that keep Alaska at the top of avalanche and snowmachine-related unintentional injuries and deaths.
Learn more at alaskasnow.org.