The final conference report for the American Recovery and Investment Act issued late last night by the House and Senate Conference Committee did not contain language that had been included in the Senate version prohibiting the use of stimulus funds for community parks.
Working late into the night of February 11, and throughout the next day as well, House and Senate conferees worked to reconcile two very different versions of the stimulus bill. A ripper amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) submitted on February 6, had specified that: "no funds in the bill can be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project."
Having healthy children and a strong community park system is vital to having a healthy, active nation. Interactive and accessible school playground equipment, well-built recreational fields and other park system features are key to this vitality.
Not surprisingly, the Senate swiftly approved the Coburn amendment by a vote of 73-24, likely because few of them wanted to be seen in the position of voting to allow stimulus funds to be spent on casinos or gambling establishments. However, spending on the very worthwhile and stimulative public sector categories that were specified in this amendment, including "community parks," would have also been prohibited.
NRPA advocates and allies swung into action with an all-out advocacy effort to stop this senseless prohibition from being enacted. Armed with facts and figures on the economic value of local parks and the direct benefits that would result in creating jobs and revitalizing local economies, NRPA advocates convinced Members of Congress and key Congressional staff of the merits of allowing spending of stimulus funds for community parks.
The final conference report language adopted by the Conference Committee states: "None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool."
Thus, the final conference report ensures that funds in this bill will not be denied to park and recreation agencies for spending on community parks and school playground equipment. Some prohibitions remained in the bill language and will thus prevent spending of stimulus funds on swimming pools, public golf courses, zoos, and aquariums, fortunately the final language did not prohibit inclusion of other categorical exclusions such as museums, theaters, and arts facilities, many of which are important park and recreation services to the public.
This was a significant and important victory for parks and recreation, and NRPA thanks the many allied organizations, citizen advocates, and our members for their exceptional efforts to see that funding for community parks was rightfully included in this economic recovery bill. Parks and recreation can and will play a vital role in helping to restore our national economic health and vitality.