By Gwendolyn Craig
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented the state’s approximately $178 billion proposed budget for 2021 on Tuesday, with millions focused on projects in the Adirondacks and a five-year, $33 billion plan to combat climate change.
Addressing a cohort of state employees, legislators and guests in the Kitty Carlisle Theater at The Egg, Cuomo led his budget address with the threats of increasing temperatures across the globe.
He called them “frightening.”
“We start with the most aggressive climate change program in the country because, my friends, the clock is ticking, and it’s ticking faster and faster,” Cuomo said. “New York has to be the state that stands up and says once and for all, ‘We have to do more and we have to do it faster, and let’s pledge the largest amount of any state in the United States of America.'”
The $33 billion, five-year plan includes the $3 billion Mother Nature Bond Act that Cuomo proposed in his State of the State address earlier this month. The act would go toward flood mitigation and habitat restoration projects. New Yorkers will have to vote on that in November.
Robert Mujica, the state’s budget director, addressed reporters after the budget presentation and said the $33 billion is divvied among several agency budgets that have already been focused on projects related to climate change.
“There’s a focus on making sure that all of those programs are now aligned in a climate budget,” Mujica said. “Those are not old funds. Those are the next five years; we’re expecting to spend that $33 billion over the next five years.”
The funding is meant to guide New York toward its Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act goals, which include reducing greenhouse gas emissions statewide by 85% from 1990 levels by 2050.
In addition to the proposed $3 billion Mother Nature Bond Act, $28 billion is slated for green energy projects and $1.5 billion toward carbon-free transportation, according to budget documents.
While Cuomo did not mention the Adirondacks on Tuesday, his budget document includes funding for several area projects. One of the biggest is $147 million toward Lake Placid Olympic facilities, which will host the 2023 World University Games.
Of that money, about $10 million will also go toward maintenance and energy upgrades. The budget also funds improvements to ski resorts including Gore and Belleayre Mountains. About $134.5 million will focus specifically on upgrading Lake Placid’s athletic venues for the World University Games, often touted as the second-largest winter sports competition behind the Olympics. The competition is 11 days long and attracts more than 2,400 athletes.
This was great news to state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury.
“Lake Placid is going to be a top-notch winter sports facility again,” Little said following the budget presentation.
Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, were also glad to see spending devoted to more broadband in rural areas.
The Adirondack Park Agency is also slated to get funding to renovate its Ray Brook headquarters. The agency’s $5 million 2020 budget was increased to $6 million for 2021. More details were not available in the budget document.
There were other sweeping environmental highlights, some of which could affect the Adirondacks, in the proposed budget. At a glance:
— The Environmental Protection Fund is projected to get $300 million again, which will be split among solid waste programs, parks and recreation, open space and climate change mitigation efforts.
— The state Department of Environmental Conservation may get $55 million “to address a variety of capital needs to improve access to State lands, rehabilitate campgrounds, and upgrade its recreational facilities.” The Adirondack Park is not specifically mentioned.
— The DEC could also see an additional $145 million in its budget to work on the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, the Mother Nature Bond Act and other capital projects.
— The governor’s budget also recommends adding 47 staff members to the DEC “to implement the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act and the Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative.” It is not clear what those positions will be.
— The state also plans to allocate $2.5 billion over five years to drinking and waste water infrastructure upgrades and water-quality protection projects.
– – The governor plans to ban single-use plastics and foam packages.
With lots of spending planned, the state still faces an approximately $6 billion deficit, largely due to Medicaid costs.
In the draft budget, the governor proposes a Medicaid Redesign Team, which is slated to find $2.5 billion in savings next year. Cuomo is also putting some of the financial burden on counties, unless they stick to the 2% property tax cap and keep Medicaid growth below 3%. How counties are supposed to keep Medicaid growth down is not clear.
The full budget is now available online.