The December 14th Herald-Leader editorial, “Fund ‘sweeps’ allow Kentucky politicians to dodge, but no substitute for tax reform,” while making the points about government sweeping funds from agencies, created a misperception about funds being transferred into the General Fund in the latest state fiscal budget from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund (KHLCF).
The editorial states “Buyers of nature license plates who thought they were supporting more nature preserves were rudely surprised to learn that part of what they pay is swept into the budget for purposes having nothing to do with nature.”
This is not accurate with regards to the license plates this year. While it is true that the two-year budget passed in the 2016 General Assembly does transfer some funds from the KHLCF into the General Fund to help address Kentucky’s pension crisis, the 2016 budget bill as enacted and signed by Governor Bevin specifically states “these funds transfers to the General Fund shall not include any receipts derived from the sale of the Nature License Plate.” (HB 303, http://www.lrc.ky.gov/record/16RS/HB303/bill.pdf).
And while substantially more funding was swept from the KHLCF in the 2014 budget without the language protecting license plate funds, that sweep affected funds accrued in previous years, not incoming license plate revenue.
The KHLCF also receives funds from other sources, including a tax on unmined coal and some environmental fines. A portion of the funding generated from those sources was transferred, not funds from license plate sales.
About 40,000 Kentuckians each year voluntarily pay an extra $10 to purchase a “Nature’s Finest” license plate because they know it helps conserve Kentucky special natural areas. For two decades, the KHLCF has provided Kentuckians and its visitors – hikers, paddlers, birdwatchers, hunters, anglers – with opportunities to enjoy its beautiful landscapes and natural areas.
The proceeds collected by the sale of the wildcat, Viceroy butterfly, and cardinal plates goes into the KHLCF to fund the acquisition and management of parks, nature preserves, and wildlife habitat for all of us to enjoy. In fact, since the program’s inception over 20 years ago, the KHLCF has helped conserve nearly 90,000 acres statewide.
From the old-growth Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve in Harlan County to the Livingston County Wildlife Management Area in Western Kentucky, “Nature’s Finest” license plates make possible these outstanding outdoor experiences for Kentucky citizens and tourists alike. Even the state’s oldest and most popular state parks, like Natural Bridge, Cumberland Falls, and Pine Mountain, have been helped by the KHLCF’s expansion of their hiking trail systems and conservation of their scenic vistas and natural features.
The KHLCF has also helped agencies like the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission (KSNPC), Kentucky Department for Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), and Kentucky Division of Forestry (KDF) secure federal funding for habitat improvement projects and conservation of existing natural areas by providing “matching funds”. The synergy among conservation organizations has increased by working with the KHLCF, particularly in the efforts to develop the Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail in southeastern Kentucky. The Pine Mountain Trail will eventually lead from Breaks Interstate Park to Cumberland Gap National Park, a span of 120 miles.
The Herald-Leader has covered the efforts of the Floracliff Nature Sanctuary in Fayette County to buy “Camp Trail’s End”, a former girl’s summer camp along the Kentucky River. The KHLCF is providing significant financial support to complete this project within the coming weeks.
Other projects include the more than 600 acres added to Audubon State Park in Henderson, an addition to Blue Licks State Park and a significant addition to a nature preserve that conserves habitat for a federally endangered species. These projects are all in addition to sites that “Nature’s Finest” license plates and the KHLCF have funded in the past 20 years – sites like Jessamine Creek Gorge in Jessamine County, Clear Creek Park in Shelbyville, the Morning View Conservation Area in Kenton County, Lily Mountain in Estill County, and Raven Run Nature Sanctuary in Fayette County.
So the next time you see a Kentucky nature license plate, feel good that someone’s hard-earned money went to preserving Kentucky’s rich natural heritage.