Joint legislative hearings on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2014-2105 budget are being held this week. Wednesday’s testimony focused on environmental issues.
The roster of groups appearing before the joint committees reviewing the environmental conservation section of the executive budget ranged from environmental and business advocates to state agencies. Despite the attention paid to Commissioner Joe Martens’ comments regarding the status of fracking during his testimony, he says there are a number of other crucial environmental funding issues legislators must negotiate. “I’d put at the top of that list a proposal that’s in the executive budget to extend the state’s brownfield law. The governor’s proposed a change to that program that would direct the tax credits to sites that actually need incentives to be cleaned up. And we think it will be a much more efficient and effective program.”
The executive budget also includes a $100 million reauthorization of the state’s superfund.
Both brownfields and superfund allocations were concerns that New York Public Interest Research Group Senior Environmental Associate Laura Haight brought before the legislators. “What we’re concerned about is that the governor has proposed a ten year extension of hte brownfield tax credits, but has only provided one year of additional funding for the superfund clean up program. That’s our biggest concern in this budget. Within the brownfield program the governor has put on the table a number of changes which overall in concept are good, but we need to look at the details and make sure that at the end that program really is fair and effective and the sites that go through that program, not only get cleaned up properly, but that the sites that really are in financial need of economic development assistance, get that assistance.”
The Adirondack Council highlighted its desire for increased funding to the Environmental Protection Fund. The proposed budget increases the fund to $157 million. Council Executive Director Willie Janeway is pleased to see what he calls a modest increase, but notes that the fund was at $250 million before the recession. “The Environmental Protection Fund is like a barometer for all environmental commitment in the budget and spending. It is where funding comes from for land acquisition, for grants to communities to combat invasive species, to take care of state lands, and for grants to communities to do planning.”
Commissioner Joe Martens, on the other hand, is pleased with the proposed funding level for EPF, which provides state agencies and local governments with capital for a variety of environmental projects, including land acquisition, recycling and state and local park improvements. “$157 million dollars, that’s an increase from $134 million just a year ago. So it is a significant increase. The governor has been restoring the EPF over time and unlike in years past all of the money that goes into the EPF is being spent on environmental projects. We shouldn’t forget that. Because again in years past, even though the EPF had much higher appropriations not all of that money was being spent for environmental projects.”
The Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee are holding a total of 13 hearings on the proposed budget through February 11th.