State recycling money is on the chopping block in Pennsylvania, the latest arena in which legislators look to draw from recycling support funds as a way to balance the state budget.
House of Representatives lawmakers on Sept. 13 narrowly approved House Bill 453, which proposes to transfer $70 million from the state’s recycling fund into the general fund. The recycling fund is one of nearly three dozen dedicated funds that would be siphoned to balance the budget. The state Senate subsequently rejected the proposal, and the funding package is now being renegotiated.
Industry experts predict a dramatic impact on recycling efforts if the funding proposal is signed into law.
“This looks like this is state money, when in actuality what it does is it goes back to pay expenses at the local level,” said Jennifer Summers, executive director of the Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania (PROP), which has mounted a campaign to dissuade lawmakers from raiding the recycling fund. “The impact will be highly visible – if all of a sudden they stop doing their programs, it’s going to be pretty obvious. That will be where the real pain will be, is at the local level.”
Similar developments have also taken place in other states. Early this year, New Mexico saw a proposal to cut more than 60 percent of its recycling fund, prompting recipients of grants issued through the fund to stop work while the bill was under consideration. In the end, the cut was reduced to about 20 percent of the fund.
During the spring, a North Carolina government office that provides recycling industry support was targeted for elimination by state lawmakers. After advocates visited the state capitol and shared the impact recycling has in the state, the office was preserved in the final budget.
The Pennsylvania fund comes from a $2-per-ton tipping fee at landfills and waste-to-energy facilities. Grants are awarded to local governments to reimburse for costs of developing and implementing recycling programs, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. There are also performance grants, which are awarded based on the success of a local program’s recycling efforts. The fund also pays county recycling coordinators’ salaries.
State financial records show the recycling fund had an ending balance last year of nearly $61 million. The records indicate the fund disbursed $19 million in municipal recycling performance grants and $19.6 million in municipal recycling grants, in addition to other expenditures including $3.8 million in public education and technical assistance grants.
Certain recycling services are mandated by 1988 state law Act 101, meaning that if the money local programs receive to reimburse them for recycling program costs dries up, recycling would become an unfunded mandate.
The recycling fund is tied with the state environmental stewardship fund as the two largest pots of special fund money Pennsylvania lawmakers are eyeing to balance the general fund budget.
A similar tactic was used during the 2016-17 budget process, although at a far lower level: $9 million was transferred out of the recycling fund into the general fund. That prompted the House Appropriations Committee to issue a release noting that although the fund had enough money to allow the transfer, and although moving money out of the recycling fund was not a new idea, “this should not be considered as a sustainable practice.”
PROP has sent out letters with information constituents can use to contact lawmakers and voice their support for the dedicated fund. Summers said the goal is to educate elected officials on how recycling works in the state, how it is funded, and what impact it has on the economy.
“I hope that a good bit of it is that they don’t know, and not that they don’t care,” Summers said.
In some cases, the latter may be true. The Altoona Mirror reported Friday that Republican state Rep. John McGinnis praised the plan to strip recycling funds, stating recycling should not be subsidized by the government. He also described recycling as state-sponsored “environmental religion” and said it is “inimical to property rights,” the newspaper wrote.
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