On Tuesday, January 16, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his proposed budget for the state fiscal year that starts April 1. The tax bill recently approved in Washington, and the need to close a more than $4 billion budget gap have set the backdrop for a challenging budget year. In spite of this, Governor Cuomo presented a budget with a mixed bag of proposals: some good, and some bad.
This week, the Senate and Assembly passed their respective one-house budget bills, marking the beginning of three-way negotiations. They have announced their intent to pass a budget by March 29th, in hopes that they can finish the budget before Easter and Passover.
What follows is a list of proposals that were both included and not included by the Governor in his budget proposal, with a comparison of the responses in each houses respective one-house budgets:
Forest Preserve Taxes
Since the creation of the Forest Preserve in 1885, New York State has paid property taxes to communities, in order to reflect the benefits afforded to all New Yorkers: clean air and water, recreational opportunities, and the less tangible aspects such as ‘knowing that all that forest is there, protected.’ Governor Cuomo proposed this year to shift from a typical ‘ad valorem’ taxation model, where communities can assess the property as though it is privately owned, to a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). Under the PILOT proposal, the assessments of the Forest Preserve would be capped at 2% per year or the increase in the level of assessment, whichever is lower.
Thankfully, the Senate and Assembly soundly rejected this proposal in their one house budgets, sending a clear message of support for our public lands and for the communities who host these lands as they enter three-way negotiations.
Empire Forests for the Future Initiative
The Adirondack Council and partners have called for updates to forest tax laws for more than three decades, and if enacted, would incentivize and increase profitability for environmentally responsible forestry and private open space conservation, while reimbursing communities for lost revenues. The Adirondack Council supports the passage of the Empire Forests for the Future Initiative (EFFI) in the FY2018-19 final enacted budget as proposed in the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal. Approval of EFFI can and should be done without inadvertently incentivizing substandard forestry practices, questionable recreational development, or increases in air pollution that conflict with the preservation and enhancement of the world class, wild forest character of the Adirondack Park’s millions of acres of public and private forest.
The Assembly has intentionally omitted EFFI from their one house budget, citing a variety of concerns from a broad swath of stakeholders. The Senate has included EFFI in their budget, with modifications such as the removal of the ‘timber harvest notification’ condition, which would require landowners who intend to harvest to fill out a brief form notifying the Department of Environmental Conservation with the basic information about their cut. New York State is the only state in the northeast that does not currently require a ‘timber harvest notification,’ making this a sorely needed component of any final version of this legislation.
Adirondack Lakes Research and Monitoring
New York’s Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation (ALSC) has amassed more than 30 years of continuously collected data to show exactly how soils, lakes and rivers have responded to mitigating measures such as the Clean Air Act, Acid Rain Program, Clean Air Interstate Rule, Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, Mercury and Air Toxics Rule and Clean Power Plan. The testing data have been used to create those rules and to defend them in court against industry challenges.
They show that these programs have produced dramatic and tangible successes. Many formerly dead lakes are now producing large, healthy trout again. The data also show that other Adirondack lakes, rivers and forests require continued efforts and additional cuts to reach full recovery from acid rain and mercury pollution.
In 2017, the operating budget for the ALSC was approximately $700,000, with New York State Energy Research and Development Authority(NYSERDA) being the primary funding source (over $450,000). NYSDEC also provides in-kind support totaling approximately $350,000 annually. The state has a new agreement with the ALSC, significantly reducing the organization’s work. All eight employees of the ALSC were notified in early November of their termination, effective December 29, 2017.
The Senate included $250,000 in its ‘Aid to Localities” budget in support of the continuation of robust Acid rain monitoring. It is our hope that the Assembly and Governor Cuomo will accept this proposal.
The Adirondack Diversity Initiative
The Adirondack Diversity Initiative can serve in a leadership role in the North Country and engage on a wide spectrum of diversity-related issues that are facing the Adirondack region. A $100,000 investment in the ADI this year would bolster their efforts to grow and expand their current programmatic outreach, logistical support, educational trainings, media engagement, and other administrative areas necessary to solidify and grow the overall effort. For more information about the ADI, visit their website. While the Governor and Assembly did not include the Adirondack Diversity Initiative in their respective budgets, the Senate did propose $100,000 in their ‘Aid to Localities’ budget.
The Senate has proposed to expand All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) use in their one house budget, in spite of the sorely needed reforms that have long been called for by environmental groups. By changing the definition of an ATV to permit larger, heavier vehicles known as Utility Task Vehicles, or ‘Side-by- Sides,’ a significant uptick in the numbers of riders could occur, exacerbating the challenges our Rangers and Environmental Conservation Officers face with inappropriate ATV activity on a regular basis. The 2016 NYS Ranger Report begins by stating,” Continuing a trend of the last two decades, the most problematic activity encountered by Rangers was the illegal use of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)….”
Neither the Governor nor the Assembly have proposed to expand ATV use in their budgets, and we hope that they share our opposition to this, and our desire for reforms that protect public health and the environment.
Water Infrastructure Funding
The Adirondack Council and fellow advocates have been calling for the continued rollout of the historic $2.5 billion in clean water funding approved in last year’s budget. In spite of budget hardships this year, the Governor and Legislature have all provided the re-appropriation of $2.5 billion in their respective budgets, demonstrating a firm commitment to solving the water infrastructure challenges communities face in the Adirondacks and statewide. To date, $39 million in clean water grants have been awarded to Park communities.
Environmental Protection Fund (EPF)
The $300 million EPF is the cornerstone of capital funding for environmental projects. From land acquisition, to state land stewardship, to invasive species management, waterfront revitalization and ‘smart growth’ project funding, the EPF means so much to clean water, healthy wildlife and vibrant communities in the Adirondacks. The EPF is almost completely made possible by downstate real estate transfer tax revenues. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the EPF, which has provided billions of dollars for environmental capital projects statewide.
Governor Cuomo, the Senate and the Assembly all proposed $300 million in funding for the EPF, demonstrating unwavering bipartisan support for this critical funding source. Within the EPF, the Governor, Senate and Assembly have different ideas about how to allocate the $300 million. For a more detailed list of what is included in their respective EPF proposals, visit this link.
EPF Open Space Protection
The Open Space Protection line has helped fund historic land acquisitions in the Adirondacks, such as the purchase of the lands formerly held by Finch Pruyn, from the Nature Conservancy, which included the recently classified Boreas Ponds tract. Governor Cuomo and the Senate have proposed $30 million dollars for open space acquisition this year, while the Assembly has proposed $37 million. All three have proposed $2.5 million in funding once again for the Land Trust Alliance/Conservation Partnership Program, which funds important private land protection projects both in the Adirondacks and statewide. The Adirondack Council supports increased funding for open space protection.
EPF State Land Stewardship
The State Land Stewardship funding line supports the important work of trail crews, High Peaks Alpine Summit Stewards, and new projects in approved Unit Management Plans in the Adirondacks. With the recent classification of the Boreas ponds tract, the state will now undertake a Unit Management Planning process. When that is completed, the state will then likely undertake projects approved in the plan (establishing trails, parking lots, signage, gates, etc.) which will require funding. The Governor’s budget proposed just over $34 million in his executive budget, while the Senate proposed $31 million and the Assembly, $22 million. A strong investment in this budget this year will set the stage for a well-thought-out, well-designed Wild Lands Complex Plan for the greater High Peaks Region. The Adirondack Council supports state land stewardship funding.
EPF Invasive Species
The fight against the threat of invasive species continues in the Adirondacks, and the Governor and legislature offer sustained support for ongoing programs, in the amount of $13.3 million. These funds will go towards the projects such as the Adirondack Invasive Species Prevention Strategy, Lake George Invasive Species Prevention, and Invasive Species Eradication. The Adirondack Council supports this.
EPF Adirondack Visitor’s Interpretive Centers
The Governor proposed in his executive budget to provide $180,000 in funding for Paul Smith’s College and $120,000 in funding for the SUNY School of Environmental Science and Forestry to fund the Adirondack Visitor’s Interpretive Centers (VICs). The VICs offer accessible walking trails and interpretive signs and educational programming, exposing visitors to the wonders of the Park’s waters, wetlands, forests and wildlife. These two locations took over the operation of these facilities from the state following the most recent economic downturn. Both the Senate and Assembly have also included this funding in their one house budgets, though in different portions of the EPF. The Adirondack Council supports these.
EPF Lake George Park Commission Visitors Center
The Governor proposed $700,000 for a Lake George Park Commission Visitor’s Center, which would house the Park Commission staff and welcome and educate the public about the “Queen of American Lakes.” The Senate also included this funding, but the Assembly did not. The Adirondack Council supports this.
With the budget deadline of April 1st, the Governor and Legislature will be working long days and late nights to meet that deadline, and the Adirondack Council will be there advocating for the best outcome possible that supports clean water and air, healthy and abundant wildlife, and vibrant communities in the Adirondack Park.