New York’s environmental community is ambivalent about funding provisions for conservation and environmental programs in the finalized state budget.
The final budget signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo Tuesday morning includes $162 million for the state Environmental Protection fund. That is a $9 million increase from last year’s funding, bringing the total allocation to $162 million. But some, including Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway, would like to see it at a much higher funding level. “The $9 million is a great step in the right direction, but it is a small step. The EPF was at $255 million just a few years ago. A lot more needs to be done and we look forward to working with our leaders to secure additional funding because there’s still a big gap between the need and the available funds.”
New York Public Interest Research Group Senior Environmental Associate Laura Haight calls the environmental budget a mixed bag . She’s pleased to see more funds for the EPF. “We know that our environmental needs far outpace the amount of funding that’s available. Parks and open space, agency staffing, important programs to protect our air and water. We know that these programs aren’t getting enough funding, but on the other hand, we’re glad that we got a little bit more.”
What concerns Haight is programmatic issues that are tied to the budget. One is the state superfund. “As the funds start to dry up, the clean ups slow down. We’re talking about communities across the state that will be held hostage to these toxic waste sites. The governor had proposed adding an additional one year of operating funds in this budget. Our group, others and the Assembly, were calling for a long term commitment of ten years. In the end, it’s just not in the budget at all.”
The New York League of Conservation Voters says the budget makes some progress, but lacks environmental vision. It praises the increase to the EPF and $92.5 million in capital funds to state parks. But the group criticizes rejection of legislative proposals for clean energy funding and diversion of transit funds to pay debt. League Spokesman Dan Hendrick says there was an equal mix of budget victories and losses, but it lacks a broad sustainability vision. “You go line by line and there’s pluses and minuses. For example, the Environmental Protection Fund. That’s a good example where there’s an increase and we’re happy and grateful for the increase. Yet we go through this this exercise every year. There needs to be much more of a commitment in Albany to think comprehensively and to simply make the environment more of a priority in the state budget. Should we be coming back year after year to fight for $5 million in the midst of an enormous budget? We really need to be thinking more comprehensively and more robustly about the environment.”
The Adirondack Council’s Willie Janeway and NYPIRG’s Laura Haight say there will be opportunities to address some of the budget oversights through legislative means. Haight notes “They absolutely can address these post budget. For the brownsfields program, its not really a monetary issue, it’s more programmatic changes. And that’s what’s been happening increasingly in the Capital is that the budget is being used as a vehicle not just to deal with funding issues but a wide range of programmatic issues. But there’s no reason at all why they can’t deal with this as part of the regular legislative session.” Willie Janeway adds “On the non-budget issues, there are specific legislative opportunities. In the budget arena it’s not too early to start now talking about a long term plan to implement visions for meeting the environmental, clean water and infrastructure needs of the state of New York.”
Environmental provisions in New York’s budget also fund zoos, parks, and water and conservation districts.