RECYCLING TAKES HIT AS STATES REDO BUDGETS

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WASHINGTON — Florida and Wisconsin — leaders among states that provide support for local recycling efforts — appear ready to scale back subsidies that go to those programs.

Florida's governor and Legislature want to shift at least $10 million, or 40 percent of what the state now spends on recycling, from recycling to clean-water programs. Wisconsin's governor, meanwhile, has said he wants the state's recycling tax to expire and a legislative committee is recommending cutting it in half.

Most states do not provide nearly as much support for what is typically a local government function. That makes Florida and Wisconsin extreme examples of what industry officials warn is a trend: State support for recycling is dropping as state governments face tougher budgets.

``There is a lot of competing interests at the state level'' for spending on education and prisons, and as states assume more responsibility for traditionally federal functions, such as welfare, said Jonathan Burgiel, the author of a February report on recycling spending prepared for the American Plastics Council of Washington.

That report projected recycling spending at the state level will drop from $171 million in 1996 to $152 million this year and $126 million in 1998. The figures reflect spending on curbside and drop-off programs for all materials, and are rough estimates, Burgiel said.

Some states are increasing spending a little—like Massachusetts and New York. A spokesman for Californians Against Waste said funding is holding steady there.

The cuts are not likely to impact curbside recycling dramatically, because the programs are very popular with homeowners, even if they want smaller government in other areas, said Luke Schmidt, president of the National Association for Plastic Container Recovery, a PET recycling trade association in Charlotte, N.C.

In Wisconsin, municipal officials say eliminating the state's share of recycling spending— about half of the $90 million spent on curbside programs— will force cutbacks. About half of the 31 members of the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities said they would scale back or eliminate programs, said WAC spokesman Rich Eggleston.

The tax, created in 1990, is not set to expire until 1999, but Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson has said he will veto any extension of it, said Susan Hundt-Bergan, recycling team leader in the state's Department of Natural Resources. A legislative study commitee has recommended cutting the tax in half.

Eggleston said the state has not lived up to its commitment to develop markets for the recycled materials and that the alliance does not expect the governor to propose any replacement funding.

In Florida, the governor and Legislature seem to favor cuts of $10 million to $15 million in the $25 million the state spends each year, said Rudy Underwood, head of government affairs for the Southern region for the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and APC. Large counties and cities will not be hurt because state grants are a ``drop in the bucket,'' but small counties are ``totally dependent on state aid'' and could be in trouble if more than $10 million is cut, he said.

The state government ``is saying, `Look, you guys—we have created one of the most successful recycling programs in the country.' The philosophy is, we've won,'' so the money can be shifted to other needs, Underwood said.