Hochul proposes large environmental protection fund, bond act and Olympic venue spending
By Gwendolyn Craig
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s $216.3 billion budget for 2023 includes an historic $400 million environmental protection fund, a $4 billion environmental bond act and major investments in broadband and Olympic venues.
The governor presented her spending plan on Tuesday in a 16-minute virtual speech. It weighed in $4 billion above the budget lawmakers approved last year. Hochul said the state is in a strong financial position from increased tax receipts, a healthy stock market and federal aid.
Hochul’s budget book highlighted next year’s World University Games to be held in Lake Placid on venues operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority. The 11-day competition event will host over 2,000 winter athletes.
The budget itemizes $105 million in new capital funding for ORDA, including $92.5 million for upgrades to Olympic facilities and ski resorts and $10 million for maintenance and energy efficiency upgrades. An ORDA spokesperson referred questions about the funding to the Division of the Budget. The Adirondack Explorer did not receive answers to its inquiries as of Tuesday afternoon.
The proposed budget also includes $1.6 billion for the ConnectALL initiative. It is intended to provide more broadband access across the state.
As Hochul prepares to run for election in the fall, the Buffalo Democrat unveiled a budget with spending growth of 3.1% and an average annual growth of 3.6% in years ahead. She also suggested there would be zero budget shortfalls through 2027.
“This is an extraordinary time and it will be met with extraordinary solutions,” she said. “We’ll make smart investments to make sure we not only recover from this pandemic, but emerge from it stronger than ever before.”
Budget bills, which provide more details, were not available as of Tuesday afternoon, but a briefing book shed some light.
Environmental organizations praised the increased environmental protection fund, though some still hope it will be boosted even more. The nearly 30-year-old fund is mostly financed through real estate transfer taxes and is used for things like land acquisition and preservation, controlling invasive species and habitat restoration projects. Last year, the EPF’s budget was approved at $300 million. Hochul is now proposing $400 million. The Adirondack Council and Open Space Institute call for $500 million.
Environmental advocates have pushed to get several Adirondack-related projects paid for through the fund.
For example, the Adirondack Council seeks $500,000 each for visitor use management in the High Peaks and for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative. It would also like to see $6 million for an updated Adirondack Lakes Survey. More than two dozen organizations including the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Council and the Nature Conservancy’s New York Chapter wrote to Hochul in December soliciting $10 million in the budget to support trail maintenance, education and recreation infrastructure.
As announced in her State of the State address earlier this month, Hochul said the environmental bond act headed to the ballot this November will increase to $4 billion from $3 billion. It is called the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act.
“This historic initiative will provide the support New York needs to restore critical environmental habitats; reduce flood risks; conserve additional lands and open spaces; protect and improve our water resources; and invest in climate change mitigation projects that will reduce pollution and lower carbon emissions,” Hochul’s administration said in a news release.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s budget also received a proposed $15 million increase to $90 million. The funds will help with improving access to state lands, updating campgrounds and recreational facilities, repairing dams and restoring wetlands.
Hochul also announced $500 million in clean water infrastructure funding for drinking water and wastewater treatment projects.