A Mixed Bag for the Environment in New York State’s New Budget

At around 4:00 a.m. last Saturday the Legislature formally adopted the new State budget for 2018-2019. Unfortunately, the budget fails to advance a number of the New York League of Conservation Voters’ biggest priorities. The good news is that there is historic funding for a number of programs including the Environmental Protection Fund and the Farm to School program, which are clear wins in a tight budget.

Still, despite strong grassroots support from NYLCV members and environmentalists across the state this budget missed opportunities to divert food waste from landfills, reduce single-use bag waste, reform the forestry stewardship tax credit, and take real action on congestion and mass transit. We’re disappointed in the Assembly and Senate and have come to expect more from Governor Cuomo given his strong record on the environment.

In a few weeks we’ll be back in Albany fighting to achieve the goals that were left out of the budget as well as other legislation to combat climate change and protect our, air, water, health, and open space. Until then, here’s a rundown of how our priorities fared in this year’s budget:

Included in the Budget

Environmental Protection Fund: Maintaining funding for the Environmental Protection Fund at a record $300 million for a third consecutive year is an unambiguous win for the environment.

Farm to School and Farmland for a New Generation: Doubling funding for the Farm to School program to $1.5 million and increasing the school meal reimbursement rate for locally grown food is a win-win that supports local agriculture and provides more nutritious food to school children, while also teaching children about where their food comes from. The budget also allocates $400,000 to the Farmland for a New Generation program to establish a statewide resource centers for beginning farmers.

Pine Barrens Expansion: We are pleased that the Legislature and the Governor were able to reach a compromise to expand the Long Island Central Pine Barrens that allows for both the protection of wilderness and the development of renewable energy.

Brownfields: A misguided proposal to defer the brownfield redevelopment tax credit for three years was thankfully not included in the final budget. However, the Brownfield Opportunity Area program was reformed to provide for more grassroots input.   

Missed Opportunities

Food Recovery & Recycling Act: This legislation would have required large generators of food waste to donate excess wholesome food to food banks and recycle food scraps. It would contribute millions more meals per year to food banks and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is particularly disappointing that the Food Recovery & Recycling Act was not included in the final budget because the proposal comprehensively addressed concerns that Senate Republicans raised regarding a similar proposal in last year’s executive budget.

Congestion Pricing: The surcharge on for-hire vehicles below 96th Street is a good first step toward reducing automobile emissions and raising new revenues for the MTA, but we need real congestion pricing, which means at a minimum using a portion of the new revenues to begin the construction of cordon infrastructure and address transit deserts. We will keep the pressure on the Governor and the Legislature to finish the job and fully implement the recommendations of the Fix NYC panel.

Reducing Single-Use Bag Waste: A fee on all single-use bags would dramatically reduce waste, save local governments money, and raise new revenues for the Environmental Protection Fund. We continue to await Governor Cuomo’s promised statewide solution to bag waste in the wake of last year’s preemption of New York City’s fee.

Empire Forests for the Future Initiative: It is long past time for the 480-a forest tax abatement program to be reformed to apply to smaller parcels of land and allow for the inclusion of more open space. We are disappointed that the Legislature was unable to reach a compromise.

Farmland Preservation: Recent litigation in Suffolk County threatened the future of the County’s farmland preservation program. Though the program as it has been operating for decades was finally upheld in court this month, the Legislature missed an opportunity to clarify the agricultural land uses that farmland preservation programs based in Section 247 of the General Municipal Law allow.

04.02.18 // AUTHOR: Patrick McClellan //