On Friday of last week, Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature approved a 168.3 billion dollar budget, within the context of what was considered to be a lean budget year.
In spite of the budgetary challenges the Governor and Legislature faced this year, core environmental funds were upheld, including the Environmental Protection Fund and community water infrastructure funding approved over the last few years.
The final approved budget contained a mixed bag when it came to more detailed aspects of the budget; some were good, and some were bad. What follows is a review of the state budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year:
Environmental Protection Fund (EPF)
The 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 negotiated a breakout for the $300 million appropriations in great detail. For a full list of what was included in final negotiated EPF, click here.
EPF Open Space Protection
The Governor and Legislature have agreed to a $35 million appropriation for Open Space Protection this year. This is a $1.3 million reduction in the total from last year’s budget, but there is good news with a couple of new subcategories, such as $1 million for the “Five Towns” and $700k for the Lake George Park Commission Visitors Center.
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. All three branches also agreed to continue to $2.5 million in annual funding for the Land Trust Alliance/Conservation Partnership Program, which funds important private land protection projects both in the Adirondacks and statewide.
EPF State Land Stewardship
We were pleased to see a $2.6 million uptick in funding for the State Land Stewardship bringing the 2018-19 appropriation to $32.6 million.
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. 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 this year’s appropriation.
EPF Invasive Species
The fight against the threat of invasive species continues in the Adirondacks, and the Governor and Legislature offer continued support for ongoing programs, in the amount of $13.3 million. ($300k increase). 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 final approved budget provides $180,000 in funding for Paul Smith’s College and $120,000 in funding for the SUNY School of Environmental Science and Forestry to support 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. The Adirondack Council is pleased to see the VIC’s getting the support they deserve.
Empire Forests for the Future Initiative
The Adirondack Council is disappointed that the final budget does not include the Empire Forests for the Future Initiative, and thankful for the Governor’s leadership in promoting this badly-needed update. Hopefully, the Governor and Legislature will remain committed to discussing reforms, and not let this recent progress fall by the wayside.
We have worked with partners in calling for updates to forest tax laws for more than three decades. New York’s forest tax laws should be enhanced to better incentivize and increase profitability for environmentally responsible forestry and private open space conservation, while reimbursing communities for lost revenues. Forest tax law updates 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.
Adirondack Lakes Research and Monitoring
The Governor and Legislature agreed to include $250,000 for Adirondack Lakes Research and Monitoring in the coming year. If complimented by funds recently preserved in the federal budget, this funding should allow the continuation of robust lake sampling that enables our state to defend itself from upwind polluters, and inform policymakers as they develop new policies to protect their residents from dirty air.
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 pollution cuts to reach full recovery from acid rain and mercury pollution.
The Adirondack Council commends and thanks Senator Betty Little for her work in making sure that the final enacted budget includes $250,000 for continued Adirondack Lakes Research and Monitoring. If paired with the funding preserved by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in the federal budget, there is once again great hope for the continued service of this critical research program.
Forest Preserve Taxation
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.’ There was a proposal 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.
The Adirondack Council was proud to work with partners in local government to oppose this proposal throughout the budget process. We commend the Governor and Legislature for agreeing that this should not be included in the final enacted budget.
Continuing the trend of this Administration, Environmental Agency Staffing was held flat once again. Both the Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation continue to suffer from understaffing, and the Adirondack Council will continue to fight for appropriate restorations.
The Adirondack Council commends the Governor and Legislature for rejecting calls to expand ATV use without first enacting reforms that have long been called for by environmental groups. Proponents of this measure seek to change the definition of an “All-Terrain Vehicle,” or ATV, to permit larger, heavier vehicles known as Utility Task Vehicles, or ‘Side-by- Sides.’ The result of this measure would lead to significant uptick in the numbers of riders on public roads and trails, 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)….”
While we commend all sides for not approving the proposal in the final enacted budget, we still await the enactment of a general ban on ATV use for the forest preserve and other state lands. Water Infrastructure Funding
The Adirondack Council is pleased to see the Governor and Legislatures commitment to the rollout of the historic $2.5 billion in clean water funding approved in last year’s budget. Their actions this session have demonstrated 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.
The Adirondack Diversity Initiative
While the Adirondack Diversity Initiative (ADI) did not receive dedicated funding in this year’s budget, there may be potential within the current budget construct to support an expanded ADI.. 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.
The Governor and Legislature agreed to fund the Olympic Regional Development Authority with $60 million in funds for facilities maintenance and upgrades at Gore and Whiteface ski areas. If legal, the Adirondack Council supports the use of these funds.