Pandemic knocked an ambitious state budget, but some funding hung on
The state budget started with a grand presentation by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Albany, with a $6 billion deficit mostly involving Medicaid costs and a proposal for a $3 billion environmental bond act. As the coronavirus pandemic turned into a growing problem so, too, did the deficit.
With federal representatives striking a late December deal that did not include aid to state and local governments enough to close gaps, New York’s finances are looking grim over the next several years.
The $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, which was passed by the state Legislature, died in July after Cuomo pulled it from going to a public referendum. The state deficit had grown to $14 billion, and Cuomo said he did not think a bond act “would be financially prudent to do it at this time.” The bond act could be revived in 2021, but lawmakers would have to vote on it again, pass it and New York voters would have to vote on it, too.
So far, the $300 million Environmental Protection Fund, which finances many projects and initiatives in the Adirondacks, has remained safe.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation was supposed to get 47 new staff members to help implement the state Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, but those were tabled. The act aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide by 85% below 1990 levels by 2050. The state has continued to make progress on that front, however, through the Climate Advisory Council.
Forest rangers have continued to call for more staffing. DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos sounded interested in possibly adding more at a press conference this summer, but pointed to the state’s poor financial outlook as a reason not to add more now. — Gwendolyn Craig