States Faced with Severe Budget Shortfalls Shortchanging Smart Growth Programs, Report Finds

Environmentalists Warn that Cuts will Threaten Local Economies, Environment and Public Health

WASHINGTON (March 25, 2002) -- More than a dozen states have made or are considering massive cuts to smart growth programs to address budget shortfalls, according to a report released today by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), Sprawl Watch Clearinghouse and Smart Growth America. The report warned that cutting these vital programs eventually will threaten local economies, the environment and public health, and called on state legislators to defend them.

"We understand that states have to tighten their belts, but this is not the time to return to the failed policies of the past," said Deron Lovaas, NRDC's deputy director for smart growth policy. "We have hundreds of examples around the country of programs building vibrant communities, revitalizing older neighborhoods, and protecting our cherished green spaces. States have to take the long view."

The economic downturn has dramatically reduced state revenues. One estimate places the aggregate budget shortfall for states for fiscal year 2002 at a crushing $40 billion. And although it looks like the economy is on its way to recovery, that is cold comfort to state budget officials struggling to make ends meet in this fiscal year and the next.

The report surveyed the status of smart growth programs in 15 states and the District of Columbia. These programs face the budget axe in Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Utah. Colorado and Ohio are considering smaller, but still harmful, cuts.

Some state officials, who apparently realize the long-term benefits of smart growth initiatives, are expanding these programs or starting new ones. Report authors say these officials are responding to their constituents.

"While our national priorities clearly have changed since the tragic events of September 11, Americans have a different set of local priorities, and sprawl is one of their top concerns," said Allison Smiley, director of the Sprawl Watch Clearinghouse. "Even in last November's election, voters passed 73 percent of the open space protection ballot measures in 14 states."

Just three weeks ago, for example, California voters passed a $2.6 billion ballot measure protecting open space. Meanwhile, Washington state lawmakers this year passed five smart growth statutes, and Massachusetts legislators are considering two measures that would provide more money to preserve green space, clean up brownfields, and encourage communities to incorporate smart growth principles in local planning. It is too soon to gauge the outcome of smart growth initiatives in New Jersey and the nation's capital.

"We applaud the states that are staying the course on smart growth," said Elizabeth Humphrey, associate director of Smart Growth America, "and we urge other state legislators to follow their example. If they do, they will reap big returns on their investment."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages
Smart Growth: Weathering the Storm