On almost every issue in America today there is a deep, mostly partisan divide. But last week’s election results also showed that on one issue, parks and land conservation, there is near unanimous accord, and it is neatly spread across party affiliation.
Voters across America approved local and state ballot measures that will provide more than $1.5 billion in new money for parks and conservation; in many cases, people voted to tax themselves more to pay to create and improve city parks and to protect rural land for public use.
Of 30 local park and open space measures on the ballot, 26 passed—an 87 percent approval rate. Earlier in 2017, another 11 local measures had been voted on, and 10 passed. Overall, in 2017, 36 out of 41 local and state conservation measures passed, creating more than $2 billion for parks and open space. That passage rate of 88% is consistent with what we’ve seen for the past 30 years. Over the last three decades, voters in nearly all 50 states have approved close to $100 billion in new money for local parks and open space.
At a time when Americans seem to be increasingly divided, one thing we all agree on is that we love our parks, whatever our political party, and are willing to pay higher taxes, or increase municipal debt to pay to acquire and protect our common grounds. Voting with their pocketbooks for parks is actually as American as apple pie, whether local voters lean Republican or Democratic. Whatever their politics, they’re willing to spend to create and protect local parks.
For example, in Monmouth County, N.J., voters passed 58-42 a property tax increase for parks, water quality, and farm land. The measure could create $280 million over the next 20 years. Last November, the county voted 53-47 for Donald Trump. In Pinellas County, Fla. voters gave 83-17 passage to a sales tax extension of the “Penny for Pinellas” program, which could provide $64 million for local parks, water quality, and trails. Pinellas is a classic “swing” county and went for Trump last year, 49-48.
In Delaware County, Ohio, voters renewed by 63-37 a local tax for county parks, which will create $62 million over the next decade. The county went 56-44 for Trump last fall. Dallas, Texas, voters overwhelmingly approved a $261 million park bond and a $50 million bond to improve Fair Park. The measures passed by 73-27 and 65-35, respectively. The area gave Hillary Clinton a 2-1 margin last year. Also in Texas, Houston voters gave 75-25 approval to Proposition C, a $104 million park bond.
As voters overwhelming support increased funding for parks, even when it comes out of their own pockets, elected officials are taking note and taking leadership. Last month, 143 mayors from across the country committed to ensuring their residents have access to a park within a 10-minute walk of home. Almost two dozen Republican mayors joined the campaign, including mayors like Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, who leads a city Trump won last year.
Given bipartisan, national support that crosses lines from big city to small town to vast prairie, other political leaders should take note.
The current assault on public lands coming from the White House and some members of Congress is not supported by most Americans. Congress should renew and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, by ensuring that the $900 million already collected each year from offshore oil and gas drilling receipts is fully allocated to protecting our parks and public lands.
Likewise, Congress should fund the National Park Service at a level that addresses the true needs of our national parks without imposing harsh new entrance fees on families who need access to our public lands. And the White House should drop proposals to roll back protections on some of our National Monuments, and should respect the monuments created under the Antiquities Act.
Tuesday’s election sent a clear message that where parks and public land are concerned, Americans, whether they vote “red” or “blue,” are all green.