Proposed NY budget cuts environmental programs

December 19, 2008 at 3:48 am Leave a comment

Money for invasive species control, farmland protection, waterfront revitalization and a host of other environmental programs would be reduced under the $121.1 billion budget proposed by Gov. David Paterson.

A coalition of environmental, farm, recreation and community groups said Thursday programs supported by the Environmental Protection Fund boost the economy and create jobs while protecting the environment.

Paterson proposes cutting the fund from $255 million to $205 million for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. That’s despite a state law passed in 2007 requiring the fund to grow to $300 million in 2009.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, said it would make more economic sense to add money to the fund rather than decrease it.

Challenging economic times in the past have been eased by significant investments in capital projects and the jobs that go along with them, said Tim Sweeney, director of the Campaign for Parks & Trails New York. “The genius of the EPF,” he said, “is that it’s a dedicated source of funding for environmental projects regardless of economic conditions.”

Besides decreasing the dollars in the fund, Paterson also proposes restructuring it so most of its money comes from unclaimed deposits from returnable bottles and cans. Historically, it was funded almost entirely by the state’s real estate transfer tax, but under Paterson’s proposal only $80 million of the tax revenue would go to the environmental fund and the rest would go into the state’s general fund.

John Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council, said the change means the environmental fund will rely on a less dependable _ and currently nonexistent _ funding source.

Paterson has proposed updating the state’s returnable bottle law to include non-carbonated drinks and to require beverage companies to return all unclaimed deposits to the state. Environmental groups have lobbied for such a change for 20 years with no luck, so Sheehan said it makes no sense to rely on unclaimed deposits as a funding source.

Jeffrey Gordon, Paterson’s budget spokesman, said bottle deposit revenue has long been seen as a way to supplement the existing Environmental Protection Fund.

“In this difficult fiscal time, the proposal to rely more heavily on Bottle Bill revenues for the EPF is a way for the state to achieve needed fiscal relief for the state while still providing resources to support important environmental initiatives,” Gordon said in a prepared statement.

Sheehan said cuts to the Environmental Protection Fund include:

_Invasive species programs would get $1.5 million instead of $5 million;

_Farmland protection money would drop from $30 million to $17.5 million;

_Waterfront revitalization would go from $27 million to $9 million;

-Municipal parks would drop from $21 million to $8 million.

“Each year, more than half of the EPF is devoted to state-mandated services that are often too expensive for local governments to handle on their own, such as stormwater management and municipal recycling,” said Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York State Conference of Mayors.

Baynes said cutting those funds would place a heavier burden on local taxpayers.

“Given the state’s fiscal situation, Governor Paterson found it necessary to propose reductions in every area of state spending,” Gordon said. “These cuts are unavoidable, considering current economic conditions.”

By MARY ESCH – Associated Press

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