WPLN.org, by Blake Farmer
March 9, 2010

Governor Phil Bredesen wants to restore conservation funds that have been diverted for the last two years, even though the money could be used to save state jobs.

Whenever land changes hands in Tennessee, a small portion of the fees goes toward protecting wetlands and adding to state and local parks. The fund generates $15 to $20 million in a given year. Those fees were redirected two years ago to fill a budget gap and the budget situation has only gotten worse since then. But an effort to restore the conservation fund has gained bipartisan support.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris says he and most Republicans would like the money returned to its intended use. But, he says, shrinking revenues will force lawmakers to decide between saving state jobs and any other spending.

“When it comes to priorities sometimes, there will be those who say we need that money this coming year for other, more urgent causes, and it just remains to be seen.”

Democrats are optimistic the fund will be restored. Conservation groups have even gotten the support of Rep. Joe McCord, the Republican chairman of the House Conservation and Environment Committee.

Kathleen Williams of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation says the fees have helped acquire 240,000 acres of high-priority land.

“You can’t stop growth. We wouldn’t want to stop growth necessarily. But you can direct it. And you can save the most precious places by reinvesting a little bit every time real estate changes hands.”

Around Nashville, the real estate transfer fees have been used to create Beaman Park, Shelby Bottoms and purchase ridgelines around Radnor Lake. On the Cumberland Plateau, the fund has bought Savage Gulf in Grundy County and protected 3,000 acres around Fall Creek Falls.

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