On Tuesday, January 16, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce his proposed budget for the state fiscal year that starts April 1. The announcement is slated for the day after the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, when we celebrate the progress made toward civil rights and urge new actions to realize his “dream” of racial equality.
A projected multi-billion dollar state budget deficit has made headlines. Everyone will want to see how the proposed budget is balanced, how the goals the governor announced in the State of the State Address will be accomplished – including environmental and clean water goals – and what projects are likely to be funded.
The big, obvious items the Adirondack Council will be checking for will be the dedicated $300 million Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), which is almost completely made possible by downstate real estate transfer tax revenues. This year marks the 25 th Anniversary of the EPF, which has provided billions of dollars for environmental capital projects statewide.
Other priorities include the $500 million or more for clean water infrastructure grant funding, and staffing levels at the Dept. of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency, for Forest Rangers and other critical positions.
This is also a year when a number of very important, but not very large, Adirondack budget priorities are flying mostly below the radar. These are items that are important for the legacy of the Adirondack Park as a national treasure. They include keeping the waters free from pollution and invasive species; protecting rare and threatened wildlife, natural communities and Wilderness; and, fostering economically and socially diverse, sustainable and vibrant communities.
In the Governor’s State of the State there was a vision of New York as a progressive leader and a champion for the protection of the environment and the State’s parks. The speech included photos of the Statue of Liberty at the lower end of the Hudson River; pledges to counter proposals from the Trump administration that make the country less welcoming to all; and, language about preserving the success of the Adirondack Park and protecting the Upper Hudson River.
The State of the State provided the vision. The budget provides the details, and determines (along with upcoming actions by the APA and DEC) if the success of the Adirondacks continues, despite the obvious threats.
A few items to watch for include:
INVASIVE SPECIES: Annual funding from the EPF dedicated to preventing and combating invasive species infestations was $13 million last year. This includes funds dedicated to the Adirondacks, support for boat inspections, boat washing stations, education, eradication, the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program hosted by The Nature Conservancy Adirondack chapter, and grants to many member of the Adirondack Lake Alliance. Funding from the EPF is also dedicated to programs specific to Lake George.
DIVERSITY FUNDING: The growing Adirondack Diversity Initiative program will be looking to see if the Governor allocates EPF or other moneys for an expanded partnership to make the Adirondacks more welcoming and inclusive for everyone. Part of Dr. King’s dream was to see people of all races living, working and playing together in places like the Adirondack Park. Encouraging use of the Forest Preserve by all of its owners is not only a civil rights issue, and the right thing to do, it’s of critical importance to local Adirondack businesses and towns. All New Yorkers should feel they can participate in and grow the community of people who support, sustain and benefit from the Adirondacks.
ACID RAIN: Deep cuts have been proposed for federal funding for acid rain research and monitoring, endangering decades of data collection and imperiling the base of information needed to show federal regulators whether emissions controls are working. Cuts resulted in staff layoffs. We will be watching to see if EPF dollars are dedicated to monitoring, research and recovery of Adirondack waters impaired by acid rain.
LAND TRUST PARTNERSHIPS: The EPF funded the Conservation Partnership Land Trust Program at $2.5 million last year. Many land trusts and land conservation project supporters will be looking to see if this high-leverage investment is sustained in the Governor’s budget proposal. This program has helped projects from Lake Placid to Lake George and statewide.
UPDATED PRIVATE STEWARDSHIP INCENTIVES: A large coalition and the Adirondack Council are supporting inclusion in the Governor’s budget proposal an “Empire Forests for the Future” program promised in the Governor’s state of the state in 2015 and 2016. This is a proposal to amend Real Property Tax Law (section 480a) to provide improved incentives for sustainable private forest, open space and wildlife management, with funding from outside the EPF reimbursing communities for any decrease in real property tax receipts.
SMART GROWTH: In recent years Governor Cuomo has been a big advocate and user of funding for community smart growth planning and projects. The Adirondack Council and towns support EPF funding from the Department of State and DEC for community center projects.
STATE LAND STEWARDSHIP: EPF funds dedicated for “stewardship” of state lands are what pay for efforts from trail crews to summit stewards, education and much more. With the surge in hiking and other outdoor recreational activities a number of challenges need to be addressed to sustain the success and popularity of the Adirondacks. Problems include overflowing parking lots, erosion and damage to trails and natural resources, and negative impacts on the wild forest character of the Forest Preserve which attracts so many to the Adirondacks in the first place. We will be looking to see what priorities will be for stewardship funding this year.
The Adirondack Council isn’t looking to see if there is funding for its own use in the State budget. The Adirondack Council is entirely privately funded. It doesn’t accept government funding or taxpayer-supported donations of any kind. The money is instead for state programs and personnel, as well as grants to local communities and grants to other not-for-profit organizations.
Tuesday we can all be checking the Governor’s proposal against this list to see if the Adirondacks are poised to win victories for wilderness and communities.
Photo of New York State Capital Building.