Hochul’s $227B proposal includes Adirondack projects, $400M Environmental Protection Fund
By Gwendolyn Craig
Gov. Kathy Hochul presented a $227 billion state budget for 2024 on Wednesday, with sums for climate change mitigation, clean water and the environment. Some said the budget fell short in these areas, but some Adirondack Park groups were pleased overall.
Hochul sprinkled some funding for climate initiatives around the Adirondacks, allocating $2.1 million to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry for the Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute. The program is a pipeline for New York City-area students to study in the Adirondacks and learn about climate-related careers with a social justice lens.
Hochul addressed a crowd of reporters and selected legislators in the Red Room of the New York State Capitol, along with top advisors including Acting Budget Director Sandra Beattie.
There, Hochul called climate change “the greatest threat to our children and grandchildren.” She promised $5.5 billion toward reducing carbon emissions, investing in clean air and water and promoting energy affordability, according to a news release.
The Democratic governor also reminded her audience that voters authorized a $4.2 billion environmental bond act in November. New program funding, according to Hochul’s 162-page state budget book, will begin to flow in the new fiscal year. Her proposed budget also includes new staff for implementing the bond act.
The executive budget included $500 million in clean water infrastructure funding, $400 million in electrification and retrofits and a renewed $400 million for the environmental protection fund (EPF). The EPF is a pot of money mostly financed by real estate transfer taxes, according to the DEC. Much of the fund is used to pay for Adirondack Park-specific projects, such as land acquisitions. Environmental groups in the park had asked for that sum, with hopes of increasing it to $500 million by 2025. The Legislature could still increase it in negotiations that will take place in the coming weeks.
In the EPF, the governor proposed $2.1 million for the Timbuctoo institute, a reallocation of the same amount awarded last year. SUNY ESF is partnering with CUNY’s Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn on the project.
Paul Hai, associate director of SUNY ESF’s Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb, said the purpose of the program is more than climate matters. The “wellspring” of his vision is through the lens of environmental justice and diversifying the Adirondack Park. By targeting young high school students for the program, Hai said, the chance of diversifying college student enrollment in park colleges could increase. That, he hopes, could diversify the job candidate pool for forest rangers, environmental conservation officers, environmental attorneys, scientists and other climate-related careers.
“Well-intentioned people think we’ll diversify by hiring or we’ll be diversifying by who we accept to the college,” Hai said. “The problem is, you can’t change your organization by who you hire if your pool of candidates isn’t diverse.”
Over the past year, Hai and colleagues have been gearing up to welcome students for the inaugural program this summer. The plan is to offer 16 students at a time two weeks of programming that start at Medgar Evers. The cohort will travel to Kingston to visit abolitionist Sojourner Truth sites and a YMCA community farming program. From there, Hai said, they will head to Syracuse and visit community sites including Onondaga Lake, once considered the nation’s most polluted water body. The second week, students will stay in the Adirondacks and visit Timbuctoo, an historic African-American community of farmers just outside of Lake Placid.
Hai is developing new partnerships with other schools in New York City and hopes to bring 64 students through the program each summer.
Other proposed funding
In the governor’s state budget book, $92.5 million in funding for the Olympic Regional Development Authority was the only Adirondack-specific project highlighted. The state authority managing the sports venues used in the 1980 Winter Olympics, will direct the funding toward upgrading and modernizing infrastructure and creating energy efficiencies. The budget book mentioned the “Adirondack Park” once.
Other Adirondack-related items the governor is proposing include:
- $29 million reallocated for a new APA headquarters;
- Up to $20 million for the state-operated dams at Conklingville, Sixth Lake and Old Forge;
- $8 million reappropriated to the Adirondack and Catskill parks to address the balance between natural resource protection and visitors;
- $300,000 for the Adirondack North Country Association’s Adirondack Diversity Initiative;
- $250,000 to Paul Smith’s College for the support of the Adirondack Park interpretive centers;
- Up to $300,000 to the village of Lake Placid to buy land for a parking area for the Adirondack Rail Trail;
- Up to $500,000 to Cornell University for the control of hemlock woolly adelgid;
- $1 million reallocated to the towns of Long Lake, North Hudson, Minerva, Indian Lake and Newcomb for infrastructure and environmental improvements;
- $600,000 reappropriated for the visitor use management framework to guide stewardship decisions in the Adirondacks and Catskills;
- $500,000 reappropriated to Adirondack Architectural Heritage for the management of the Camp Santanoni Historic Area;
- $500,000 to Essex County for landfill closures;
- $150,000 to Hamilton County for landfill closures.
It did not appear that Hochul allocated funding for a climate change survey of Adirondack lakes.
John Sheehan, communications director for the Adirondack Council, said he was pleased to see Hochul proposing more than 100 new positions at DEC to implement the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Green Jobs Bond Act. The council was disappointed to see that Hochul did not propose adding more jobs to the currently 54 positions at the Adirondack Park Agency.
Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, had called on the governor to raise a minimum of $10 billion a year to implement the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a law passed in 2019 requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and no less than 85% by 2050 from 1990 levels. Horner said Hochul’s budget included “some necessary steps to achieve the critical 2030 Climate Act targets,” but it failed to include a fund that would make large greenhouse gas producers pay for their emissions. Horner also thought the budget should have doubled funding for water infrastructure to $1 billion.
Adirondack lawmakers had mixed reactions to the budget. Assemblyman Matthew Simpson, R-Horicon, called the package “bloated,” but said he was “pleased to see the proper funding toward education aid and environmental conservation.”
State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, was pleased with language in the proposal on gun legislation passed last year. The legislation makes it a felony to possess a firearm, rifle or shotgun in a sensitive location, which included public parks. Though Hochul’s administration had said that did not include the whole Adirondack Park, Stec and other lawmakers felt the legislation needed change. In Hochul’s public protection and general government budget bill, she promised “state lands in the Adirondack and Catskill parks, athletic competitions and historic reenactments would all be exempted,” according to Stec.
“I’m glad to see that the governor realized this major problem and included language in her budget that matched my proposal to exempt the Adirondack Park from the new gun control laws,” Stec said in a news release. “While I have many concerns surrounding the size and scope of Governor Hochul’s proposal that I’ll outline in the days ahead, this is a welcome development.”
Over the next several weeks, legislators, state commissioners and lobbyists will weigh in on preferences for the spending plan. The state Legislature will hold hearings and by April 1, they must pass a budget. It has been late in the past.