Sunday, January 26, 2020

Adirondack Council Reviews Gov’s Budget Plans

NYS capital buildingThe Adirondack Council applauded Gov. Andrew Cuomo for proposing State Budget funding that will combat climate change, protect clean water and preserve Wilderness, build more resilient trails and make the park more welcoming place for all state residents.

On top of the newly announced $3-billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act proposal, the Governor’s plan adds another $500 million investment in clean water project funding, in addition to the $500 million previously announced for this year’s budget.

This can provide grants to help Adirondack communities such as Lake George cope with the huge job of providing clean water and wastewater treatment to 12.4 million visitors every year. This and the bond act can also safeguard the source of most of the state’s major rivers and drinking water from pollution, road salt and other contaminants. This and other new funding proposals offer an opportunity to create 21st Century infrastructure needed to handle the ever-surging flow of new visitors to the Park’s most popular wilderness locations.

We were also pleased to see tax breaks proposed in the budget, especially those that will assist small farms inside the Adirondack Park.

The Governor’s budget proposal includes a $300-million Environmental Protection Fund (same as current budget) that includes $13.3 million to fight invasive species an additional $3 million in land stewardship funds, for a total of $36 million in that category.

The new $3 million could be directed to investments in comprehensive planning and restoration of state trails and infrastructure, as well as public education and improved management of peak user days, in an effort to protect natural resources and the wilderness experience. That funding includes $1.2 million for four shuttle buses in Essex County that could help control overuse at some locations at some times in the heart of the High Peaks Wilderness Area – the state’s largest and most visited section of Forest Preserve.

The State has established a special advisory committee to help develop strategies to address overuse and protect Adirondack Wilderness areas. Knowing the Governor’s budget proposes resources to help implement committee suggestions makes the groups work even more important.

The Governor’s plan includes some 47 new staff members at the Dept. of Environmental Conservation. To address climate change and other threats the DEC needs new personnel in many fields, including planners, land managers, wildlife biologists, botanists, engineers, trail crews, forest rangers and others.

Other highlights of the Governor’s spending plan include:

  • $55 million in New York Works program funding
  • A proposal to ban hydro-fracking in state law rather than simply via state policy
  • A proposed ban on single-use Styrofoam food containers
  • A proposal to legalize the use of electric bicycles
  • $1 million for the renovation of the Adirondack Park Agency’s headquarters in Ray Brook
  • A new $500,000 for a Community Forest Program via the EPF
  • $10.65 million (same as 2019) for Climate Smart Community Grants via EPF
  • $4.5 million for climate smart farms (same as 2020)
  • $1 million increase (to $2 mill.) in the Connect Kids with the Outdoors Program via the EPF
  • Visitors’ Interpretive Centers – $300,000 split between Paul Smith’s College ($180,000) and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Newcomb ($120,000) to run the park’s two Visitor Interpretive Centers; plus, $150,000 for a new visitors center in the Catskills
  • $147 million in capital funding for the Olympic Regional Development Authority

For the first time, the Governor’s budget proposal includes EPF funding in the Environmental Justice category of $250,000 for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative. This is the stable funding the Initiative will need to create bridges of understanding between people of different backgrounds, cultures, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and perspectives, making the Park welcoming to all.

Funds will come from a $7 million environmental justice category in the EPF.

The Council Supports Farm Tax Improvements, which would:

  • Triple the current Income Exclusion for farmers and sole proprietors – Current tax law allows sole proprietors and farmers who file under the Personal Income Tax and have less than $250,000 in net business income or net farm income to reduce their Adjusted Gross Income by five percent of such income. The Governor proposes to triple this benefit.
  • Make the Investment Tax Credit Refundable for Farmers: Current law allows Investment Tax Credit (ITC) refunds only for new businesses. Cuomo’s new plan would make the ITC refundable for taxpayers whose primary source of income is from farming.

The Essex Farm Institute (a project of the Adirondack Council) supports tax refunds for small farms that tend to have a low tax burden, and can’t always take advantage of deductions or credits available to them. Similarly, tripling the income exclusion would be beneficial to small farms that gross less than $250,000. Making the Investment Tax Credit refundable may not have much impact on small farms in the Adirondacks as they don’t tend to regularly or extensively capitalize by building buildings or buying new equipment.

Item of concern

Not every budget item proposed by the Governor met with the Council’s support. Language in the budget would change the state’s longstanding ban on use of the EPF for state employee salaries

The EPF was created to fund capital projects and state land stewardship. If it is used for state employee salaries, there soon won’t be much left for capital projects such as park lands, landfill closure, recycling facilities and visitor infrastructure.

Photo of NYS capital building.

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Before John Sheehan joined the Adirondack Council's staff in 1990, he was the managing editor of the Malone Evening Telegram, and previously worked as a journalist for the Troy Record, (Schenectady) Daily Gazette, Watertown Daily Times and Newsday. For the past 20 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.




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