By MICHAEL VIRTANEN
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders reached a budget agreement for the state’s new year that will ban single-use plastic bags, a measure pushed by environmentalists.
The overall package of bills the Senate and Assembly approved will authorize spending $175.5 billion during the fiscal year that began April 1.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said this first budget from the Senate Democrats now in control of that chamber will make New York cleaner for generations to come.
It contains legislation to ban grocery stores and other businesses from providing customers with single-use plastic bags, a common source of litter that also jams recycling machines.
A subsequent Siena College poll showed 62 percent of New Yorkers said the ban is good for the state, while 33 percent said it isn’t. The poll queried 735 voters.
“This critical measure … is a necessary step to reducing the billions of plastic bags New Yorkers use every year,” said Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Steve Englebright, a Long Island Democrat. “It is time we take a stand to protect our waterways and environment from plastic pollution.”
It contains exceptions for bags used solely to contain or wrap uncooked meat, bulk items, food sliced to order; newspaper bags; those sold in bulk, including food storage and trash bags; garment bags; those provided by restaurants; and bags provided by pharmacies to carry prescription drugs
The measure authorizes counties and cities to impose a five-cent fee on paper bags, with 60 percent of the proceeds supporting New York’s Environmental Protection Fund used for conservation projects. It includes some $33 million for land acquisition.
The budget would allocate $300 million for that fund again in the coming year. Dropped was a Cuomo administration proposal to use some of the money to pay project personnel.
It authorizes $250,000 from the fund for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative so the volunteer-run coalition can hire a coordinator and expand outreach to make the Adirondack Park more welcoming to various visitors and residents.
The budget also allocates $500 million for water and sewer projects for the year. Environmentalists wanted $2.5 billion all made available this year instead of spread over five years as the governor had proposed.
According to the Adirondack Council, no additional funding was included for adding forest rangers to help deal with increasing visitors to the High Peaks, though there’s funding for five staff at the state’s new Frontier Town campground in North Hudson.
Council Executive Director Willie Janeway said they will keep pushing for critically needed additional rangers and other staff.
The budget has $33 million for “state land stewardship,” including funds for trails and to curb overuse, the council said. It has $13.3 million to prevent and remove invasive species.