Eating our seed corn -- Guest column by Eric Schott

As the legislature returns to session, Gov. Corbett’s proposal to gut open space and farmland preservation funds must be scrutinized

For more than two decades, the Commonwealth, local communities, and private land preservation organizations have worked in concert to protect nearly 600,000 acres of vital farmland and open space. These efforts have been central to ensuring diversity of lands and meeting our moral obligation to safeguard some of the nation’s most productive farmland.

Today, this tremendous progress is at risk.

Advertisement

Governor Corbett’s 2012-13 budget proposal to permanently eliminate dedicated, annual funding for both farmland preservation and the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation program is deeply-flawed policy. It puts our state’s leading industry at risk by dismantling efforts—rare in state government—that have substantial, demonstrated positive impact. It takes focused resources and diverts them to the unaccountable morass of the state’s general fund. And, in the end, it will push local property taxes higher by accelerating more intensive development.

From the vantage point of municipal government, the Governor’s inconsistency when it comes to budget policy is maddening. Think back: for nearly 18 months, Tom Corbett’s administration steadfastly resisted any effort to enact a sensible extraction tax on hugely-profitable out-of-state gas drillers. This impasse cost the state hundred of millions in funds and privileged an industry that has caused significant damage to public roads and bridges and in some cases threatened local groundwater. Meanwhile, according to the state department of revenue, 75 percent of Pennsylvania corporations pay no income taxes. And the Governor touts the continuation of “critical tax credits” as key elements in his 2012-13 budget.

Against this backdrop, how do funds that are foundational to local communities and the state’s oldest and most important industry find themselves on the chopping block?

Bipartisan agreement is hard to find these days, but answering this question is surely cause for collaboration. Chester County’s legislative delegation -- Democrat and Republican -- should join together in opposition to the Governor’s proposal. Given the especially high stakes for rural portions of southern Chester County, I hope Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi and Representatives Ross and Lawrence will play a prominent role in this fight.

Ultimately, this policy question isn’t merely an economic one. When the commonwealth has a hand in protecting precious farmland and conserving open space across southeastern Pennsylvania, we nurture the landscape that has inspired three generations of Wyeths, we stay tethered to our community’s agricultural heritage, and we ensure that our children and grandchildren have the chance to do likewise.

Together, dedicated farmland preservation and conservation funds have been force multipliers for local, county, and private efforts to permanently protect rapidly-diminishing resources. The 2,000 parcels and nearly quarter-million acres on the waiting list for preservation are evidence of their success. If Harrisburg steps away from this compact, Chester County will never be the same.

Eric Schott is a member of London Grove Township’s Board of Parks and Recreation