In the first few days of April, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature crafted a new 2020-21 state budget in the midst of the greatest public health emergency in 100 years. In many ways the state’s actions were remarkable in these circumstances, as legislators debated the budget in empty chambers and voted in small groups. In the end, they approved a barebones budget that can be, and undoubtedly will be, adjusted in the months ahead.
The good news is that a number of major environmental priorities were advanced, even in the time of the COVID-19 outbreak. Many legislative leaders see environmental, economic, and public health as integrated parts of the same overall public policy challenges.
After the budget was passed in early April, the Legislature started its April break early and is not scheduled to meet again until the end of the month. When and how the Legislature meets again is an open question at this point. It remains to be seen if additional, non-budget legislation will be taken up by the Legislature through the rest of the year.
Here’s a recap of the major Adirondack related issues in the state budget.
Restore Mother Nature Bond Act: The approved a new $3 billion bond act for a broad range of projects focusing largely on climate change resilience and mitigation. It has been 24 years since the last environmental bond act was approved by the voters and environmental protection needs have multiplied greatly since 1996. Past bond acts have funded purchases for the Forest Preserve, conservation easements and recreational facilities. The “Restore Mother Nature Bond Act” will find $3 billion in project across New York to “reduce flood risk for vulnerable communities, invest in resilient infrastructure, restore fish and wildlife habitats, preserve open space and enhance recreational opportunities, prepare New York for the impact of climate change, and ensure transformational energy and environmental projects, especially in disadvantaged communities.”
The Restore Mother Nature Bond Act will be on the ballot in November. Due to the vast uncertainty from the Coronavirus outbreak in the months ahead, and that this budget was finalized by state leaders working following special protocols during a time of a state shutdown, the state budget director was given the authority to pull this Bond Act from the ballot if the state’s financial condition significantly worsens in the months ahead. Protect the Adirondacks supports this Bond Act and will work to promote and pass out in the months ahead in the run-up to the November vote.
The NYS Environmental Protection Fund: The EPF was fully funded at $300 million; click here for a breakdown. The EPF funds a variety of environmental programs including land protection, invasive species management, state land stewardship, farmland protection, solid waste/recycling programs, and more. The 2020-21 budget includes: $31 million for land protection; $18 million for farmlands protection; $13 million for combating invasive species; $34 million for state lands stewardship, including $1.2 million for “overuse in Essex County;” and the Paul Smith’s and Newcomb Visitor Interpretive Centers were both provided with basic operating funding.
Invasive Species Transport Bill: Now entering its seventh year, the invasive species transport bill makes it illegal to transport dirty boats across New York. Boats are supposed to be clean, drained and dry. This bill makes it illegal to launch a dirty boat at any private or public boat launch in New York. This law helped to strengthen boat steward programs in the Adirondacks and Finger Lakes and other areas in New York. This bill was passed for a 5-year period in 2013 and extended for one year in 2o19. As part of the state budget this year, this law was extended for another year. Protect the Adirondacks supports this law and worked to strengthen it. While no changes were made, we will push in 2021 for a long-term fix to strengthen this vital law that helps to protect waters across the state.
There were as number of other major issues where action was postponed. There is wide support for Conservation design legislation in both the Senate and Assembly to reform the Adirondack Park Agency Act for regulation of large-scale subdivisions. A road salt study bill also remains in limbo. Action on appointments to the APA Board, which is hampered by vacancies and members serving in expired terms is also in limbo. Protect the Adirondacks continues to push for actions on these matters in the months ahead.