Thursday, January 17, 2019

Viewpoint: New Cuomo Budget Misses Major Adirondack Priorities

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently released draft budget for 2019-2020 is disappointing because it misses some major priorities for the Adirondack environment and communities.

Major issues across the Adirondacks, such as increased funding for the High Peaks Wilderness to build a sustainable trail network, more Forest Rangers, or a larger Environmental Protection Fund to meet major challenges of climate change, were all ignored in this budget.

Funding for state agencies was also mostly flat. The Adirondack Park Agency was funded at 54 positions, the same number for the past several years. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) created five new positions, but these were all for the Frontier Town Campground and day use area. The campground was built for $9 million in 2018. No new Forest Rangers were approved in this budget, though empty positions from retirements will be filled. The budget did not include funding for the High Peaks Wilderness, which is seeing record numbers of public use, but has scores of miles of trails in need of upgrades and repairs to protect hiker safety and natural resources. The failure of the Cuomo Administration to invest in the High Peaks Wilderness is mind-boggling.

The Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) was funded flat at $300 million, where it has been capped in recent years. The EPF does not come close to meeting the immense environmental challenges across New York or the Adirondacks for climate change and community protection and resiliency.

The EPF account for land protection was funded at $32.3 million, down from $35 million last year. Invasive species management and control is funded at $13.2 million, but this is inadequate as across the Adirondacks and New York we need to build a mandatory Lake-George-type boat inspection, cleaning and certification program. State Land Stewardship was increased to $33.7 million, with $1 million earmarked for ORDA. The two Visitor Interpretive Centers at Paul Smith’s and Newcomb were funded at $180,000 and $120,000 respectively; both should be funded at $250,000. $450,000 was provided for Hamilton and Essex Counties for solid waste management as part of the agreement that prohibited Essex County from selling its landfill more than 20 years ago to create Freshkills Landfill North. The newest program area in the EPF is “Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation” which has grown to $21.5 million, highlighted with $5 million for climate resilient farms and $10 million for climate smart communities. The EPF should be funded to grow steadily to $1 billion annually to increase environmental spending across the Board, but also fund climate change work at a serious level and fund environmental research across New York, among other things.

The Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) was funded at $70 million, up by $20 million over last year. This increase is for various upgrades at ORDA’s ski areas that have been recently approved, many to promote summer tourism. Is summer tourism at a ski area a smart investment of millions of dollars?

The Governor’s clean water program, which helps municipalities upgrade public drinking water and sewer systems, in scheduled to see an increase of funding by $500 million. This program now approaches $1 billion a year, but will be hard-pressed to actually get a lot of that money out the door. While this sounds like a lot of money, the backlog of needed upgrades to public water systems across New York is in far north of $100 billion. Right now, the Village of Lake George needs $22 million for its failing system.

Governor Cuomo also used his State of the State and budget address to pronounce that he was launching the “Green New Deal” right here in New York. The Green New Deal was championed in political campaigns in the last year by many progressives, led by congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez from the Bronx and Queens, to confront the realities of climate change and rebuild the American economy that is free of fossil fuels and based on economic justice and equality. Count me in as a skeptic of Governor Cuomo’s commitment to the Green New Deal. Remember that Cuomo spent his first term refusing to utter the words “climate change,” preferring to talk in terms of extreme weather. Remember that across the Adirondacks he has commanded state agencies to build road-like 12-20 foot wide snowmobile “trails” that require cutting of over 1,000 trees a miles and inflict immense environmental destruction as the forest understory is flattened. The Governor continues to build these destructive “trails” on the public “forever wild” Forest Preserve even though snowfall is declining and unreliable. Cuomo is also working right now to have his state agencies build 4 miles of a new snowmobile trail through a Wilderness area.

The Green New Deal proposal talks about the importance of a national plan that would be implemented to accomplish its goals. The Governor said he’s going to convert New York’s energy system to 100% renewable energy by 2040. Where’s the plan for how he’s going to do that? Where’s the schedule? What are the costs? Where in the Governor’s budget is the part about making homes and buildings energy efficient and 100% greenhouse gas neutral? Where is the part about de-carbonizing New York’s economy? How will the Governor de-carbonize transportation in New York? Besides being short on details, there are also important parts of the Green New Deal that Cuomo somehow missed, like not taking political contributions from the fossil fuel industry or its lobbyists.

On the economic development front, the Governor is proposing to continue the Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) with a new allocation of $750 million. The 2018 North Country REDC purportedly awarded $64.8 million in funding in December. A reading of the awards shows that $36 million was in tax credits or funding for local Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs) to offer low interest loans. Of the $28.8 million in supposed actual awards $2.9 million went to private businesses, $11.7 million went local governments for salt sheds or upgrades to municipal water and sewage systems, and the remaining $14.2 million went to a variety of local governments and non-profits for an assortment of projects.

While the State of New York should certainly help North Country communities with a variety of infrastructure improvements and help non-profits to deliver services, these are not investments that are going to create or sustain jobs and build the local economy. Very few permanent jobs will be produced from this purported $64.8 million in funding for the North Country. Moreover, it’s a good bet that the North Country will never see a lot of that $64.8 million as projects will fail to come together and much of the $36 million in tax credits and low interest loans will not be utilized. The REDCs have been criticized as high style political performance art that net few genuine jobs for a region despite billions of dollars awarded. The recent round of funding for the North Country shows the shortcomings of the REDC approach. The Legislature needs to look at alternatives for economic development in Upstate New York that actually invest in businesses and job creation. (In another failing of the REDC approach, it cuts the Adirondack Park into three different regional councils, hence failing to provide a strategic focus on Adirondack communities.)

It’s a certainty that the newly emboldened Legislature, now unified under Democratic control, will move ahead promptly with budget hearings and then pass their own draft budgets to answer the Governor’s. After that, three-way negotiations will set in between the Senate, Assembly and Governor, as the April 1st deadline for the budget adoption looms. While I expect these negotiations to be secretive and led by the legislative leaders, I am heartened that three men in a room has been broken up at least for now as the new Senate Majority Leader is Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Despite that step forward, the budget process should be more far open and far more transparent in New York.

For the Adirondacks, the Governor’s proposed budget missed the marks for important issues. Protect the Adirondacks will lobby for a major investment in the High Peaks Wilderness to build sustainable trails, for more Forest Rangers, for an expanded Environmental Protection Fund, for serious investment in climate change programs, and smarter economic development investments by the State of New York.

Photo of Andrew Cuomo snowmobiling.

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Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve.

Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife and two children, enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.

Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Twitter.




14 Responses

  1. FAR FAR FAR to much SOCIALISM and gargantuan amounts of Government are NOT what the Adirondacks need. PRIVATE LIVES are far far far overly TAXED by the enormous weight of the COMMUNAL EMPIRE of those with entitlement issues.

    The DEC may have some value BUT the vast so called PARK LAND Operations are totally out of control. In nearly identical manner to the KINGDOMS of Europe the GREEN CRAZIES have the idea that the groovy PROGRESSIVE AGENDA of ultra liberalism is what the so called PROGRESSIVE EMPIRE needs. The immense spending of the Cuomo Machine is OBSCENE. NEW York’s MANORIAL APPROACH with a Socialist Twist is simply UNAMERICAN and more FABIAN than what the Founding Fathers had in mind. https://theadirondacksconspiracy.wordpress.com/adirondacks-a-collectivism-of-greed/

    The North Country needs SOUND LEADERSHIP and at this time Albany fails fails fails. Liberty and Freedom does NOT include the Tax and Spend COMMUNISM of Big Albany Government ,,,,, It needs to be eradicated in fact and replaced with some PLAIN OLD COMMON SENSE Principles. Tax and Spend is very COLLECTIVE and Liberty and Freedom is NOT about WEALTH CONFISCATION. Yadda Yadda Yadda ….. Albany’s Taxation is way outta line.

  2. Dan says:

    There’s been a push for more Forest Rangers, especially recently. While I get it, the reality is that DEC continues to be a shrinking agency. The Adirondacks are not the only entity suffering from this. In the past two decades the sporting community (hunters/anglers/trappers) has seen an immense depletion of staff that support their interests, which they pay for in license fees as well as through taxes like every other New Yorker.

    This especially includes law enforcement (ECO’s and Forest Rangers), but also fish hatchery staff and much-needed biologists. Unless you raise taxes, which are way too high in NY already, or find other means of funding, the bottom line is that there are only so many pieces to the money pie.

    • Boreas says:

      Dan,

      I agree. One thing NY does differently than many other states is keeping the out-of-state licenses you mention to a minimum – evidently to promote tourism. Then they turn around and don’t support those activities as they should to keep those tourists happy. I have long felt OOS licenses should be much more expensive than resident licenses – similar to many western states – to reflect this taxation discrepancy. License fees are a drop in the bucket compared to food and lodging. This is a no-brainer source of income for wildlife resources. Why keep fees locked in a 70’s era mentality? We don’t need promotion ($9M for Frontier Town Campground, but no new Rangers??), we need responsible maintenance and patrolling of lands we have already paid for.

      • Dan says:

        I agree on the OOS licenses. They also had revenue at one time from the $10 marine license, but it was kicked out due to unpopularity. What’s $10 to someone with a $50,000 boat?

        Although I’m getting off topic of the original article, there’s a lot of ways the Conservation Fund could generate additional revenue. Passing proposed bills to lower the legal big game hunting age to 12 and increasing crossbow seasons would help; as would a second buck tag system, if done the right way.

      • Paul says:

        Non-resident licenses rarealready considerably more than resident licenses For example a non-resident hunting license is almost 5 times as much as a resident one (100 dollars vs. 22 dollars). Fishing licenses are twice as much for non-residents. How much more do you think they should be? Also many of these non-residents are paying some of the same taxes the residents are paying – sales tax, gas tax, etc.

        • Boreas says:

          Paul,

          Whatever the market will bear. I say raise the OOS license fees gradually (especially fishing licenses to pay for stocking and fishery management), until they stop buying them, then adjust accordingly. I wouldn’t think hunting/trapping would need to be raised as much, but could still go higher.

          The taxes you mention are no real argument. If we pay them and they pay them, we are simply even. And not much of those taxes goes to the environment anyway. But NYS residents DO pay for the purchase of those lands and waters plus the wear and tear on our trails and infrastructure from tourism. Why not try to minimize that tax burden where we can?

      • Balian the Cat says:

        Boreas,

        Lands and Forests staff are the Swiss Army knife of DEC and they hardly ever get a mention. Acquisition and S&R are sexy, but as the saying goes, a weak foundation won’t hold a house no matter how good it looks.

  3. Bill Keller says:

    2016 saw 53,423 people registered to use the eastern high peaks https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/stories/beyond-peak-capacity There is about 20M people in NY. So there is enough money spent by big government in the high peaks.Limit use with a trail permit system like Mt. Katahdin, ME. Over crowding problem solved.

    • Peter Bauer says:

      Bill —

      Thanks. Permits have a role in future improved comprehensive management of the High Peaks and I agree with you that the Katahdin model is a good one. But, I think, that only addresses part of the overall problem. We need to build a sustainable trail system, akin to the new trail on Hurricane Mountain, throughout the High Peaks. This protects natural resources and boosts the user experience. I also think that more resources are needed for public education at the trailhead and in the interior, for more Rangers dedicated to the High Peaks, and for research about who is using the High Peaks, natural resource impacts, and for building enduring trails and facilities, among other things. Cheers.

  4. kristjana kristiansen says:

    Cuomo family has horse interests. This is a partial explanation IMO for why he supports ‘FrontierTown’ campgrounds with horse-stalls and trails at Northway exit 29. Our Town of North Hudson needs more local supports than this. and money would be better spent on more forest rangers and environmental protection as noted above.

  5. Charlie S says:

    “Cuomo family has horse interests. This is a partial explanation IMO for why he supports ‘FrontierTown’ campgrounds with horse-stalls and trails at Northway exit 29.”

    >> First…what the hay does IMO mean?
    Second… when I read the above I immediately thought of these lines in the above report:

    “he has commanded state agencies to build road-like 12-20 foot wide snowmobile “trails” that require cutting of over 1,000 trees a miles and inflict immense environmental destruction as the forest understory is flattened. The Governor continues to build these destructive “trails” on the public “forever wild” Forest Preserve even though snowfall is declining and unreliable….”

    >> Maybe Cuomo is being futuristic! Maybe he knows that once the earth cooks enough where there will be no more snow, he’ll have created for his heirs…horse trails in the Adirondacks.

  6. Charlie S says:

    I appreciate your sincerity in trying to educate me on these ‘internet’ matters but I am not a programmed, mechanical device I’m a human being. It used to be we spent a second or two to spell out a word now we look for shortcuts because… because we’ve become cyborgs. It’s cheesy if you ask me and there’s no excuse not to clearly express your viewpoint across a page without having to look for a shortcut which some of us don’t understand because some of us are simple, uncomplicated beings who haven’t yet caught up with all of the automatic devices that guide, ensnare and dazzle a good chunk of this ever so complicated society which I feel very estranged from by the way. Surely there are others who feel the same I cannot be that individual because if I were…. where are the cameras?

    • JohnL says:

      “It’s cheesy if you ask me and there’s no excuse not to clearly express your viewpoint across a page without having to look for a shortcut which some of us don’t understand because some of us are simple, uncomplicated beings who haven’t yet caught up with all of the automatic devices that guide, ensnare and dazzle a good chunk of this ever so complicated society which I feel very estranged from by the way.”
      Awesome Charlie. 74 words in one sentence, not counting contractions. A new record.

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