SnowTRAC dodges budgetary bullet

by • October 24, 2016 • Highlights, UncategorizedComments Off on SnowTRAC dodges budgetary bullet148

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SnowTRAC grants help pay for the trail signage, such as this trail map sign below the Trapper Creek Inn sign near Petersville Road. Snowrider file.

Program that gives back to snowmachining community is still in jeopardy

One of the earliest casualties of the budgetary crisis in Alaska was the primary funding program for snowmobile grooming, safety and trail grooming in the state – SnowTRAC. Fortunately, and after much outcry from the community – the program in August received a one-year reprieve from Juneau. But the threat of cuts remains.
Go to this website – dnr.alaska.gov/parks/grants/snowmotr.htm – and you will see details on the SnowTRAC program. SnowTRAC has 20 years of history in providing service to the very snowmobilers who it. It is the only revenue-neutral program in Alaska’s likely overgenerous slate of programs supporting the citizens of our state.
Notice I didn’t say “snowmobilers,” rather “citizens.” That wasn’t a mistake. The trails, signage and grooming that occurs as a result of this grant program benefit not only snowmobilers, but dog mushers, hikers, skiers, fat-tire bikers and more.
Each snowmobiler who purchases or registers his/her snowmobile is paying the fee associated with that registration with the expectation that the money will be the primary source of funding for trails, grooming and safety programs. There is also a sense of pride that this program is not dependent on taxation of the general populace for our sport.
When faced with a budgetary shortfall in the billions of dollars, it was expected that the Legislature and administration would take it seriously. This is, after all, the state’s fiscal future. Yet, when the Legislature gaveled out of the final special session, they left this task basically untouched.

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Four-time champion Martin Buser of Big Lake glides past snowmachiners and cheering fans during the 2011 restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Multiple user groups benefit from SnowTRAC grants, which help funding signage, mapping and grooming of backcountry trails.

As a result, Gov. Walker began a series of budgetary vetoes that was designed to be impactful on the citizenry. It was evident from the beginning that the administration, and to a lesser extent the Legislature, was focused on extending the level of governmental largess without serious contraction of the budget. Revenue enhancement was the rule of the day, not fiscal responsibility.
As such, the early targets for these cuts were programs that were not understood by the administration. Taking a small amount of funding (the SnowTRAC program averages about $250,000 per year) away from DNR reduced the budget by an infinitesimal fraction of a percentage — .000058 percent, to be exact. This cut effectively gutted SnowTRAC in favor of other special-interest items. For example, according to an Alaska Public Media story published May 25, the State of Alaska subsidized the 2016 Alaska Crafted Beer festival to the tune of $200,000.
Don’t get me wrong: I like beer as much as the next guy, but the state also pays $42 million in alcohol prevention and treatment services. They would have gotten more for their money with some of that cash diverted into snowmobile safety programs targeting snowmobile DUIs.
The bottom line is that SnowTRAC, with all its fits and starts, is and was the only program in the State of Alaska that is self-funded and revenue neutral. We pay our own way and have the expectations that we maintain nominal input into our program.
Keep in mind that Gov. Walker vetoed the funding appropriation back into the community – he did not veto the fee that the state expects us to pay. Now we just don’t see it back on the ground.
Recently a group of committed individuals, businesses and legislators associated with the snowmobile industry met and began to lobby for our program to be continued. We have committed to continue this fight all the way to Juneau if necessary. We expect it will be necessary.
One item of note: DNR has said that the funding that Gov. Walker vetoed did not include funds that are currently waiting for dispersal, which means an abbreviated SnowTRAC program will be in play this season with $185,000 in current funding.
Our fight will be for the 2017 season and beyond. Keep up with us here.

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