Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Report Details DEC’s Economic Woes

Search and rescue (Forest Rangers DEC Photo) 3The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has experienced staff cuts and constrained funding since 2003, while its responsibilities have grown, according to a report released in December by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “DEC’s staff has declined while funding has barely kept pace with inflation and now is projected to decline,” DiNapoli said.

DEC is responsible for most of New York’s programs to protect wildlife, natural resources and environmental quality. DEC programs range widely from managing fish and game populations and overseeing the extraction of natural resources to monitoring the discharge of pollutants and hazardous materials and cleaning up contaminated sites.

DiNapoli’s report, “Environmental Funding in New York State,” examines DEC funding and workforce in the context of its mission. The report also highlights receipts and spending in several of the state’s major dedicated funds for environmental purposes.

DEC spending was $795.3 million in SFY 2003-04 and $1 billion in SFY 2013-14. After adjusting for inflation, DEC spending rose by a total of 1.7 percent over the period examined. Since 2008, funding from state sources is down 15.1 percent. While federal funding has helped fill the gap, those resources are now declining as well. The state Division of the Budget projects that total DEC spending will decline this year and in each of the next three years by a cumulative total of 25.9 percent from the SFY 2013-14 level.

The size of the DEC workforce declined 10.4 percent, from 3,256 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in SFY 2003-04 to 2,917 FTEs in SFY 2013-14. It reached a peak of 3,779 FTEs in SFY 2007-08. Staffing in programs such as enforcement, air and water quality management, and solid and hazardous waste management has experienced significant cuts. Meanwhile, since 2003 several new programs have been added to the agency’s list of responsibilities. These include the Brownfield Cleanup Program; the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; and the Waste Tire Recycling and Management Act.

DiNapoli’s report also notes that two of the state’s major funds dedicated to the environment – the Environmental Protection Fund and the Hazardous Waste Oversight and Assistance Account – combined have been subject to sweeps in excess of half a billion dollars to provide general state budget relief in the past.

Photo: DEC Forest Rangers and volunteers gather for a search and rescue operation. Courtesy DEC.

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27 Responses

  1. Mike A. says:

    Spending rose 1.7% while staffing fell 10%, so where’s the money going?

    • Ethan says:

      To quote from the article: “Meanwhile, since 2003 several new programs have been added to the agency’s list of responsibilities. These include the Brownfield Cleanup Program; the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; and the Waste Tire Recycling and Management Act.”

  2. gbear says:

    Abolish the APA and use some of that money to fund the DEC.

  3. Tom Payne says:

    A declining population red state with a declining tax base. What is not to understand. NYS continues to loose people and tax base. While continuing to buy lands and remove them from the tax rolls. NYS already is one of the highest taxed states in the country. This model is not going to work.

    • John Warren says:

      State lands are not removed from the tax rolls.

      NY is a blue state, not a red state.

      This has worked for more than a hundred years.

    • Ethan says:

      NY’s population is not declining. It increased over the period in the article from approx 19.18M to 19.75M. So not a huge increase, and it is certainly losing population SHARE relative to states such as Florida, Texas, and California (of which only the 2nd is a red state; California is blue overall and Florida is a swing state), but it is by no means losing (not “loosing”) population.

      As John Warren already noted, New York is dyed-in-the-wool blue, and state lands aren’t removed from the tax rolls.

      • roamin with broman says:

        Hmmm…when a timber company sells land to NYS, you two are saying SOMEONE ELSE keeps paying property taxes on that land? Who?

  4. Hawthorn says:

    “Spending rose 1.7% while staffing fell 10%, so where’s the money going?”

    That’s a tiny increase in cost covering all those new programs outlined in the article. You can see this process at work if you try to contact someone at the DEC–it is sometimes days before you get a call back. One office I have called sometimes does not answer the phone. I asked someone I knew there and he said if they answered the phone they wouldn’t be able to get any work done!

    • Paul says:

      I have contacted the DEC on a number of occasions and always got a pretty quick reply. Don’t always like the answer but I usually do get one.

  5. Marco says:

    The DEC, as much as I don’t like their high handed and somewhat questionable activities, still needs more funding. If that means an extra dollar in my taxes, so be it. They protect our environment. They conserve our resources. there just ain’t enough rangers and ancillary people to go around. They protect the people that simply do not understand the park.

    I have seen tragic messes throughout the ADK’s. Cartons, boxes and bags of just plain garbage at the lean-to’s, Piles of junk that no one bothers to TRY to clean up. Worse, what price can be put on a life cut short in the ADK’s when someone is out having FUN? Because we would not provide them with the tools they need? Because we would not supply the people they need?

    Education? Who will provide it? Surely not the public schools now days. It gets laid at the DEC’s feet, as does every item related to pollution in the ADK’s. Hell, they don’t care about one tree, they care about the forest. They don’t care about one spring, they care about the rivers and oceans. The DEC wants to protect and use the ADK’s while still conserving everything for tomorrow, too. They are doing a nearly impossible job. We should NOT hamstring them with a puny budget that results in their decline and eventual lack of real authority within their mandate in Albany. They need people. They need TRAINED people. Give them the tools and the trained (read expensive) people they need to keep the job going. Oh yes, it IS a never ending job, not one that we can throw money at and say it is done.

    No, I do not agree with the DEC about everything. But I do think that they will always have the interests of the ADK’s at heart. Even if it is long term…longer than I will live, anyway. If they need my tax dollars, well, I guess I will give it to them, though grudgingly. Who cannot bitch about their taxes?

  6. Tom Payne says:

    Just get more people to move back to NYS and all will be fine just like 100 years ago. Thanks for the correction about red to blue. Sorry about that. So the diminishing tax base of NYS still gets stuck with the tax bill? Still it is basically off the tax rolls because NYS is never very good about paying it’s bills. How NYS.

    • dave says:

      Strike four.

      The population of NY State has doubled over the last 100 years… including increases in each of the last two decades.

      • Paul says:

        Dave, saying that you think people should move back to NYS.. what does that have to do with population numbers?

        NYS is good about paying taxes on that land. Although some legislators have suggested that we not.

        Developed land will generally fetch a much higher tax base than undeveloped land.

        • dave says:

          Following the conversation from the start… you will notice it was implied that the population of NY State is declining, and that this population decline was tied to a decrease in the tax base.

          I was simply pointing out that it is not true that the population has been declining.

    • Ethan says:

      where do you get this from?

      Diminishing tax base?

      New York’s population has been growing as others (including myself) have pointed out.

      New York ranks 3rd behind California and Texas in Gross State Product (see http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/compare_state_spending_2015bZ0G) and higher than Texas in per-capita GSP

      In terms of growth, the state’s economic output grew at the same level as the country as a whole (2.9%).

      So economically as a whole the state is doing fine. Population is growing, slowly, but growing. Economy is growing.

      Does that mean the North Country is doing well economically? No, but please check your facts before commenting.

  7. Tom Payne says:

    Funny. I just looked at study done by the NYS Comptrollers office, Division of Local Government Services and Economic Development. The report discusses the declining population and eroding tax bases in NYS. It paints a little different picture from 1970 to 2000. Strike one.

  8. Charlie S says:

    The DEC is being drained of finances and staff at a time when we need them the most. Before long private interests will be stepping up to the plate to tell us they’ll save the day…just like they did when the State was in a fiscal crunch a few years back and they threatened to (and did) close some parks. If memory serves me correct it was suggested Thacher Park be sold to a private enterprise back then…so that it can continue to stay open.
    All things good for this society are being chronically underfunded,ie.. our schools and libraries,public parks…. Yep but we have plenty of money to support wars and put up new stadiums. It all smells fishy to me!

  9. jay says:

    Unfortunately there are 2 New York’s and the one they call the city( BLUE)will forever get the attention and money as upstate (RED) continues to decline.

  10. Paul says:

    The problem (especially upstate) is that in NYS we collect tons of taxes from residents and not enough from businesses. Not because the rates are too high (they obviously are) but because there isn’t enough business for the tax revenue we need.

  11. George L says:

    Has anyone asked Gov Cuomo how his love for the Adks translates into less money for DEC?

    Is it appropriate to treat him as a hero inside the Blue Line?

    Has anyone asked themselves why Gov Cuomo gets a pass when it comes to sticky issues like this?

  12. Charlie S says:

    Decline – To sink slowly,to deteriorate,to decay,to weaken.
    Reminds me of the state of the world what with all of the barbaric brutality taking shape.Who would have ever guessed,even ten years ago,that we would have sunk so low! Here we are (some of us) concerned about the conservation of our beloved Adirondacks and New York State and yet the world is falling apart all around us. Until there is collective stability worldwide all our efforts to preserve this and that local ecosystem will be in vain…i truly believe.

    This red and blue state thing I don’t relate to.We’re all one in my book,yet look at how divided we are. This country should be called “the divided states of America.”

  13. Charlie S says:

    jay says:Unfortunately there are 2 New York’s and the one they call the city
    (BLUE)will forever get the attention and money as upstate (RED) continues to decline.

    There’s only one New York Jay and if it wasn’t for those thoughtful blue people downstate there would be more darkness overall.

  14. Tom Payne says:

    We all are taxpayers Charlie. Either upstate or downstate. Sounds more like we the poor red side are to be the sheep of the blue downstate. Maybe it is time for each of us to go our separate ways.

  15. Charlie S says:

    I live upstate too Tom. I’m not happy with a lot of things but things could sure be worse. Just imagine if red Astorino would have stepped up to the plate. We always take three steps back into the dark ages whenever a red man steers the ship.Just look at the Middle East! I try to refrain from going political but I must say this: The DEC’s economic woes started back in the not so long ago day when a red state commander in chief took it upon himself to wreak terrorism in that part of the world which is now destabilizing at a very rapid rate. And nobody is talking about this fact,as if we forget or are asleep. Much of our current economic woes are tied to that era whether we fess up to it or not. So when someone on this list brings up red and blue state to try to justify their partisan beliefs it sorta irks me.

  16. Charlie Morrison says:

    The Comptroller’s report provides no specific information about DEC in the Adirondacks where funding needs are different than other parts of the state. An analysis of DEC funding trends for the Adirondack Park, if undertaken, would be complicated by the fact that parts of DEC Region 5 and Region 6 are outside the Park. Some program staff in each of these two administrative regions spend all or nearly all of their time in the Park part whereas others work throughout their entire region. Funding for staffing and operations would have to be apportioned accordingly. It would be interesting to see a study like this for the Park.

    Although there are some exceptions in the DiNapoli report, for the most part it covers only the past decade, during which there was a net loss of about 300 positions at DEC. The trend has been downward for a long time and the future looks bleak. The most startling statistic in the report is that over the next three years, DEC will take a 25% cut. It is hard to see how the agency can withstand that kind of loss, although a large part of it is federal funding for the Great Lakes Program.

    The concept of a “net loss” is important because positions and other funded items are gained or lost continually throughout the course of each fiscal year. While some State-funded or federally-funded positions are being lost due to retirements, resignations, “rifs” (reductions in force), elimination of programs and for other reasons, new programs and positions are being added. Monies can be rolled over from one year to the next. The process is dynamic and fluid right up until the books are closed on a particular fiscal year.

    Hundreds of moves are made year-in and year-out by the Governor and the Legislature through the Executive Budget, the Legislative Budget and their continuing implementation by the Division of the Budget and the Department of Civil Service. Even those professionals in State government or nonprofits who are working on these matters full time usually see and hear only a small part of what’s happening. For the public there is no transparency. The public sees and hears only what those who are controlling the game want them to see and hear, the good news.

    The cuts at DEC did not start in 2003-2004. They started the year after DEC was created, a year after Earth Day, in 1971. It was the end of the Rockefeller era, time to pay the piper for a lot of the deficit spending that had taken place. The name of the game had been to get State expenditures off the State books as much as possible, such as by creating numerous public authorities that had the power to float their own bonds without getting approval from the Legislature.

    Legislation was about to be enacted for SEQRA, Mined Land Reclamation, Tidal and Freshwater Wetlands. EPA and NEPA had been created and other new federal laws were being passed. New positions were created to meet these needs, minimally at least, while cuts were being made. The cuts were modest at first, but it became increasingly difficult to establish new positions and existing State-funded positions were increasingly shifted to federal funding where possible. The word was out: “Do more with less.” State pensions were trimmed. Agencies, including DEC, were told to cut their budgets by 10%. And so it continued, some years worse than others. The salad days of the Rockefeller years were becoming a distant memory.

    This situation has continued for decades. Agencies do what they are told, suck it up and live with the cuts without complaining.

    During Governor Pataki’s 12-years in office, starting in 1995, DEC lost 800 positions at the same time that environmentalists inside and outside of DEC were praising him for the amount of land he was preserving. In the end, it was said that he had achieved his goal of preserving a million acres , even though much of that amount was in conservation easements on land for which the fee title ownership interest is still in the hands of private owners and the State only owns a partial interest, basically the development rights.

    It was during this period that the games began with the State Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) – sweeping “excess” (unspent) monies into the General Fund, loading the EPF with marginally important programs for which it was never intended, substituting EPF funding for projects and staff that should be on regular State Purposes funding. Today the EPF is a hodgepodge as a result of these manipulations.

    The EPF was created in 1993 as a permanent environmental fund with dedicated revenue sources, mainly a piece of the Real Estate Transfer Tax the size of which is determined by the Division of the Budget. This tax generates between $400 million to $1.0 billion a year. This year the Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget increased EPF funding by $10 million over last year, to $172 million. But only $98 million of that is earmarked for open space preservation. Money that does not go into EPF is used for the General Fund.

    The 1993 EPF legislation provided for development of a State Open Space Plan by DEC and OPRHP (not DOS or any other agency), with two-year updates, and for creation of nine regional advisory committees to inform the plan. This has been a successful and important part of setting priorities and establishing public support for acquisition.

    The EPF, as originally proposed by Gov. Mario Cuomo, was created primarily to finance open land preservation. It was a direct response to the failure of Cuomo’s $2.0 billion dollar Environmental Quality Bond Act in 1990 by a half of one percent at the polls. This EQBA would have provided $800 million for land preservation. (Land acquisition was originally proposed at $950 million.) The previous EQBA passed in 1986 (also proposed by Mario Cuomo) by a 2 to 1 margin at $1.45 billion. It contained $250 million for land preservation. This 1986 open space funding ran out quickly, hence the 1990 proposal.

    The Comptroller’s report also briefly discusses the Conservation Fund, created in 1925 and financed by hunting and fishing license fees. It was originally intended to purchase land for habitat for various species of fish and game. In the 1970s, the budget games began by shifting State-funded positions to the Conservation Fund. Fees have been raised repeatedly as more money has been squeezed out of the Conservation Fund to serve the General Fund, setting the pattern for what has happened to the EPF.