History: Enabling Act and Referendum
In 1993, the Pennsylvania General Assembly, in a nearly unanimous vote, and the general public, in an overwhelming referendum vote, established the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund. The Keystone Fund and its dedicated funding source, a 15% share of the state’s realty transfer tax, passed 48-0 in the Senate and 196-3 in the House. (Act 50 of 1993). In November 1993, Pennsylvania citizens strongly affirmed the General Assembly’s action, with 67% of voters voting to supplement the Keystone Fund’s permanent funding stream with $50 million in bond revenues.
In establishing the Keystone Fund, the General Assembly sought to create a dedicated and permanent funding source for making investments in recreation, parks, conservation, libraries, historical preservation, and education.
The Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund is a critical dedicated funding source for recreation and conservation projects, libraries, and historical preservation initiatives. The Keystone Fund enabling act requires that 15% of the state’s realty transfer tax receipts be put into the Keystone Fund for distribution by the following state agencies:
|Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR)||
|Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC)||
|Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE)||
|State System of Higher Education (SSHE)||
The funding allocated to DCNR is divided by law for the following uses:
- 30% (of the 15% of the realty tax) goes to both the Bureau of State Parks and Bureau of Forestry, primarily to rehabilitate and upgrade state park and forestry infrastructure. However, up to 10% of this amount may be directed towards rails-to-trails projects, and up to 10% may also be directed towards rivers protection and conservation projects
- 25% is provided as grants for local recreation initiatives, such as ballparks and playgrounds
- No less that 10% is to be provided to land trusts for natural areas and open space planning and acquisition
The funding is managed by two DCNR bureaus: the Bureau of Recreation and Conservation (which allocates money for local recreation, rail-trails, and land trust projects) and the Bureau of Facility Design and Construction (which manages the funds used for parks and forestry improvements).
Approximately 20-25% of the Keystone Fund money that PHMC receives is distributed in the form of grants. The remaining funds are used internally to maintain and repair museums and sites owned and operated by the state. Funding is allocated for preservation, rehabilitation, and restoration projects.
Library funding is distributed by PDE through a competitive grant process. Grants are available to public libraries and municipalities for structural improvements, accessibility projects, and new construction or renovation projects. There are two types of grants: major grants for projects requesting more than $75,000, and mini grants for projects of $75,000 or less.
The Keystone Fund money that SSHE distributes to the 14 state-owned universities is not in the form of grants. The money is provided based on a formula set by the Board of Regents which takes into account enrollment, number of buildings, total amount of deferred maintenance at each campus, and more. The 14 universities are the only recipients of this money.
As established by Act 50 of 1993, the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund is funded through a dedicated portion of the realty transfer tax, a joint tax paid by the seller and buyer during a real estate transaction. The seller and the buyer are each required to pay 1% of the total purchase price, for a total of 2%. Half of this (1%) is allocated to state government (the other 1% is divided equally between the local municipality and the local school district).
Fifteen percent (15%) of the state’s share of revenue from this tax is then placed into the Keystone Fund to be allocated to projects as established by law.
Since the Keystone Fund relies solely on the realty transfer tax, changes in the volume of real estate transactions and real estate values directly impact the amount of revenue dedicated to the Keystone Fund each year.