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Lee’s budget proposal includes $207M for Tennessee parks, conservation

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(The Center. Square) – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is proposing the state spend $207 million on state parks, blueways development, farmland conservation and outdoor recreation in this year’s budget.

Overall, the budget proposal is for $52.6 billion with $25.4 billion from the state and $19.8 billion from federal funds. The proposal is a $9.9 billion decrease from the current budget with $6.6 billion less in state funding and $3.4 billion less in federal funding.

Lee noted in his state of the state speech that investing is state parks is a cornerstone of his conservation efforts and the budget would allow for eight new state parks including Hiwassee Scenic River, Ocoee River, Head of the Crow, Fort Southwest and Cardwell Mountain.

The proposed budget would have $59 million in capital improvements to parks including $25 million for a new visitor center, maintenance facility and amenities at Head of the Crow, $22 million for similar improvements at Cardwell Mountain, $12 million for campground improvements and amenities at Hiwassee Scenic River and $2.9 million for overall park maintenance.

The budget proposal includes $10 million to expedite the state’s Bill Dance Signature Lakes Initiative to improve infrastructure on Tennessee lakes and reservoirs.

It also proposes $20 million for blueways trail development which it describes as “water management and the development of new recreational access points to Tennessee waterways” along with $25 million for a Farmland Conservation Fund for farmers who voluntarily choose to place a deed restriction on farmland, paying farmers the difference between the value of restricted land compared to the value for its highest and best use.

The budget proposes spending $71.5 million in one-time funding for the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund to protect natural areas throughout the state and $6.9 million for 20 new positions to enhance Tennessee state parks and recreation areas.

“Our proposed budget will include funding to preserve our natural resources where Tennesseans and tourists are most likely to see them – on the road – with a plan to protect and enhance scenic beauty along our major highways,” Lee said.

The proposed budget also includes a one-time $14.5 million for environmental cleanup with matching federal funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for state water funds ($13.3 million) and electric grid improvements ($1.4 million).

The spending comes as Tennessee’s State Funding Board has adjusted this year’s tax collection estimates down $718.8 million from original estimates to flat year-over-year and estimate next year’s collections to be a 0.5% increase from this year.