Fees Should Stay In Trail Fund

David J. Valesky

March 06, 2006

The Governor’s proposed budget holds one item in particular that surprised and angered many snowmobilers. Within the budget is a plan to take $2.5 million out of the snowmobile trail fund and put it into the general fund.

As the legislature considers the budget, there are compelling economic reasons why we need to rethink the proposed shift of funds.

Today, snowmobiling is much more than just a recreational activity. It is a big business in our state. There are more than 169,000 snowmobiles registered in New York. In addition to our homegrown enthusiasts, riders from all over the country come to Upstate New York to enjoy our trails. When you consider the total impact of all the snowmobilers on local economies, everything from fuel to restaurant meals, you end up with an economic impact of more than $700 million. If we want to keep attracting riders, we have to keep our trails in good condition.

But there is another reason why we need to rethink this move, and it has to do with public trust in state government. Snowmobile owners and clubs feel a bit betrayed by this proposal, and with good reason.

Just last year, snowmobile clubs came together with legislators from rural areas to support the Snowmobile Rights and Responsibilities Act. This legislation, which was singed into law in August, not only established guidelines to make the sport safer and more enjoyable, it also increased the registration fees as a way to properly maintain and groom the state's 10,000 miles of snowmobile trails.

When considering this bill, I heard from many club members and trail riders urging my support. There was a lot of good in this bill, yet as a lawmaker, I am always resistant to fee increases and I was in this case. Part of the reason is because I fear that once the money ends up in the hands of state government, it is hard to control where it is spent. This legislation, however, spelled out specifically that the funds would be used to benefit the sport of snowmobiling. In the end, I supported the bill along with club members, snowmobile owners and other legislators.

Now, just six months later, the Governor is already proposing to shift money out of the trail fund and into the general fund. This move is exactly the kind of Albany-based business as usual that completely undermines the peoples’ trust in their government.

The readers of this paper know that since taking office I have been working toward a state government that is more open, responsive and responsible. There is clearly much more we have to do. But it starts with being upfront about how our fees and our taxes dollars are going to be spent. If the state says fees are going to go to the trail fund, than fees should go to the trail fund. It is that simple.

As the Senate and Assembly consider the budget, I will work with other legislators and club members to restore fund for trail maintenance. This not only makes sense for our economy, it is the right thing to do.