Snowmobile Money Restored

James L. Seward

July 22, 2008

It’s near 90 degrees in July and grass is getting brown, so it’s an odd time to write about snowmobiling. But recent events have put snowmobiling in the news, so we can think for a moment about brisk winter days and a new fall of snow in the woods and the hum of sleds on trails all across New York State.

This year brought some good news and bad news for snowmobilers.

The bad news was the raid on the state snowmobile trail fund by the governor’s division of the budget in April to help pay some of the state’s bills. In fact, the budget division lifted $1 million from the trail fund -- money that snowmobilers pay themselves to ensure decent and safe trails. Many of us, and snowmobilers too, were outraged that the state had its hand in the cookie jar. It’s like taking canned goods from a community food pantry to pay some bills.

My colleagues and I in the senate majority led the fight to pay back the trail money, by directly contacting the governor in opposition and sponsoring legislation (S.8144) which passed the senate unanimously. Unfortunately, the assembly took no action.

The good news is that the governor got the message. On July 10, the governor announced that the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) will change the way they calculate grant levels and reimbursements to help ensure that funds paid to the state each year for snowmobile registration fees will be dedicated ONLY to trail maintenance and other related program activities. The governor’s action will result in the state doubling the amount of funding it is projected to provide for local snowmobile trail maintenance grants from $2.87 million in 2007-08 to $5.34 million in 2008-09.

Additionally, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Parks department will reduce the amount of money they use from the snowmobile trail fund to help maintain 2,500 miles of state-owned trails over the next three years by a total of $1 million. Instead, the money will be redirected to help fund local trail grants and reimbursements to snowmobile clubs - where it belongs.

The additional money will greatly benefit snowmobilers as well as the local businesses in my 51st senatorial district and across upstate New York that rely heavily on snowmobiling-related tourism to make it through the winter season. In my district, snowmobiling has a significant economic impact, and the raid on the snowmobile fund by state bureacrats was unconscionable. The economic impact is not sales of sleds alone; the effect radiates from sleds to sales of gasoline, clothing, hotel rentals, restaurant visits, and so forth. Snowmobilers are a true economic force.

I commend the governor for responding to my concerns and those of snowmobilers across the state and reversing his position in order to ensure that dedicated snowmobile registration fees will be spent specifically and only on trail maintenance activities, where they belong.

After all, it’s not the state’s money.