It was gratifying to see the New York Times’s March 7 editorial page encouraging the Governor and Legislature to use a portion of this year’s surplus to restore environmental funding to the State Budget.
The Times urged New York’s leaders make the kind of investments in clean water, green jobs and infrastructure that are needed, to protect the environment and stimulate the local economy.
The Governor and the State’s leaders deserve credit for taking an interest in the Adirondacks, and for promoting and visiting the Park. This winter the Adirondack Park Agency and Governor approved a plan that will protect more than 24,000 acres along the upper Hudson River as a Wilderness Area. It also ensures that 10,000 acres, including the magnificent Essex Chain of Lakes, will be a motor-free Primitive Area. It isn’t perfect. It is better than the alternative of motorized use of the Essex Chain of Lakes.
This fall I explored these lakes in a canoe. Another day I went hiking through the woods and rode a bike on old logging roads. I skied five of the lakes in mid-February. Between fourth and fifth lakes I watched an otter watch me, wondering who would move first. The otter did. The state was right to buy these properties from The Nature Conservancy and protect them as motor-free and forever wild. They will be a tourism magnet for the surrounding communities. We know from recent studies that such investments return $7 to the economy for every $1 the state spends.
But to truly protect this resource in perpetuity – and to ensure that the local economy benefits from the recreational use and other opportunities these assets offer — the State needs to do the right thing in Albany.
The Governor and Legislature deserve congratulations for turning around a $10-billion budget deficit. They are making available $500 million to invest in priorities this year. The Executive is making commitments to protecting land, funding needed infrastructure, expanding opportunities for hunting and fishing, protecting farmland, and expanding clean energy deployment with the New York Green Bank.
Given the fact that environmental programs were cut deeply in times of economic distress, it was disappointing to see that the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) not fully restored when the deficit returned to surplus. Cuts to the EPF, as well as raids of its unspent funds by previous governors, left a backlog of priority projects around the state.
While the EPF received a modest, partial and much appreciated restoration from $153 million to $157 million in the Governor’s proposal, that still leaves the EPF far below the 2009 level of $250 million. Overall, the proposed budget includes a net decrease of $17 million in spending for renewable energy and the environment. The State should approve a plan to restore the EPF to $200 million.
Much is at stake. The state can seize the opportunity to create jobs, enhance tourism, improve outdoor recreation and local agriculture, reduce water and air pollution, improve management of waterways and conserve New York’s most precious natural resources.
The revenue is available. Over the next three years, more than $30 million in revenue generated by the state’s Real Estate Transfer Tax will no longer be needed to pay off 1996 Clean Water Clean Air Bond Act. That revenue, if retained for environmental capital purposes, provides a simple way to restore most of the EPF cuts. There is also money available from the recently expanded beverage container deposit program.
The Legislature and Governor should seize the moment, give a gift to all who care about the future of the Adirondacks, and restore the Environmental Protection Fund to $200 million by the April 1 deadline.