N.C. Senate should invest in preserving green space

This is the time of year that the late state Sen. Ralph Scott of Hawfields used to call “throat-cutting time” in the N.C. General Assembly. It's a time when there are more genuine needs and requests for appropriations than there are revenues to pay for them, and legislators often are at one another's throats in competing for money in the state budget to fund worthy programs.

One such worthy item is a $50 million appropriation in the House version of a supplemental budget bill now pending in the state Senate. It's a particularly important provision because it would continue a visionary program to purchase and preserve green space for a variety of purposes, including recreation, conservation, parks, water quality, wildlife habitat and farmland preservation.

The program, advocated by a coalition of statewide groups calling itself Land for Tomorrow, has succeeded in helping preserve green space at a time when development is gobbling up 100,000 North Carolina acres a year and population is rapidly growing. Four state trust funds – the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund – have been instrumental in leveraging state funds with other sources to preserve and enhance land conservation in North Carolina.

But they receive more requests for projects than they're able to grant. Last year, for example, the land and water conservation trusts were able to provide $172 million in funding for 256 projects, but requests exceeded available money by nearly $110 million.

Land for Tomorrow sought additional funding of $174 million in the 2008 budget. The House appropriated $50 million. While that isn't enough to attend to even a third of the immediate needs, it's a handsome amount at a time when the economy is tight and there are many competing interests. When the Senate rolls out its version of the supplemental budget this week, it should retain that $50 million item and consider other ways to boost the state's commitment to preserving land for tomorrow. Our descendants will be grateful for it.