Let's get LCHIP back on track

We expect the next Legislature and governor to stand with New Hampshire people of every political stripe in supporting the program and its dedicated source of funding

A recent statewide survey conducted by the University of New Hampshire on the value of conservation found that an overwhelming majority of voters – 88 percent — believe that conserving land is good for the state’s economy because of its benefits to tourism, and jobs in agriculture, recreation and forestry.

The same survey found that over 80 percent of voters believe that there should be public funding for land conservation efforts.

Try and find another issue where the voters of New Hampshire speak in such a unified voice.

Unfortunately, even with this level of public support, our state government has failed to keep its promise of funding for land conservation. But, with the upcoming elections and next year’s budget debate, we will have the best opportunity in years to get the state’s popular and effective conservation program – the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) — back on track.

Established in 2000 by nearly unanimous votes in the Legislature, New Hampshire’s conservation funding program is designed to help local communities protect natural, cultural and historic resources.

In the early years of the program, the state budget allocation ranged from as much as $7 million a year to a low of $500,000. The funding mechanism was changed in 2008, when the program was moved out of the state budget and granted its own dedicated funding source: a $25 fee collected on the filing of certain documents at the county Registries of Deeds. The intent was to provide a guaranteed and steadier stream of funding to support the programs good work.

However, in the five years since the dedicated fee was established, more than half of all the revenues has been diverted to fund general state government. This fiscal year new grant money allocated to the program is zero.

These raids on the dedicated fund have been justified as a temporary measure driven by a fiscal emergency, but many New Hampshire taxpayers have been dismayed to learn that the “conservation fee” they paid at the county registry is being used to fund other state functions.

Voters surveyed by UNH overwhelmingly reject this budgeting shift, with 79 percent disapproving of the use of these dedicated conservation funds for general budget purposes. The message from the New Hampshire public: keep dedicated funds dedicated.

Looking ahead, we expect that the next Legislature and governor will stand with New Hampshire people of every political stripe and support the dedicated fund for conserving our land and heritage.

Dedicated means dedicated.

Rusty McLear, CEO of Hampshire Hospitality Holdings, is chair of the Land and Community Heritage Program board. Alex Ray is founder and owner of the Common Man Family of Restaurants.

Categories: Opinion