Environment, housing and tourism investments could flow to Adirondacks
By Gwendolyn Craig
Gov. Kathy Hochul released her $233 billion executive budget on Tuesday, with plans to maintain the Environmental Protection Fund at $400 million while investing in improving state dams, trails and access. She also directed dollars toward the conversion of state-owned buildings to housing, opening possibilities for reuse of closed Adirondack prisons.
The Democratic governor announced no new tax increases despite state spending going up $4 billion from what she proposed last year. And while the state budget office had projected a $4.3 billion deficit recently, Hochul told reporters after her presentation that bad news “turned out to be better news” and $2 billion in unanticipated tax receipts and bonuses are helping close the gap. The executive is calling the budget “balanced.”
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli warned outyear budget gaps total over $20 billion through fiscal year 2027-28.
Republican lawmakers were skeptical of the balancing, with Sen. James Tedisco calling it “Hochul’s Hocus Pocus,” in a news release. The Republican senator from Schenectady County, who represents a portion of the Adirondack Park, said the financial plan did not do enough “to address our state’s most pressing existential threat to our fragile economy, the mass exodus of people who are fleeing New York in droves.”
State Assemblyman Matthew Simpson, R-Brant Lake, had similar concerns. “Every year we hear the same thing,” Simpson said. “New York is better, but every year people and businesses leave for more affordable states while the quality of life continues to diminish here.” Simpson said he was still reviewing the details of Hochul’s housing plan and other proposals.
The Fiscal Policy Institute also felt the executive budget lacked “the deep investments needed to reverse New York’s affordability crisis and stem the state’s population loss.” More investment is needed in affordable housing, the renewable energy transition and public universities and community colleges, said Nathan Gusdorf, director of the institute.
New York lost about 102,000 residents from its population of more than 19.5 million in the 12 months that ended last July, according to Census Data. The population loss came about after a net outflow of 216,778 New Yorkers to the rest of the country, resulting in the biggest drop in residents nationwide, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany think tank.
The Adirondack Park’s population has also been in decline, down to about 123,000, 7,000 fewer than in 2010.
The governor’s funding priorities on Tuesday focused on public safety, affordability, mental health and economic growth. Hochul mentioned bolstering infrastructure across the state in efforts to combat climate change in her address as well.
Referencing the state’s climate goals, Hochul said “we have to do it to meet the scale and the urgency of the climate crisis all while growing our economy and protecting our consumers.” The governor said she would tap the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act voters passed in 2022. The first trickles of these funds – $200 million, or about 5% of its total – were awarded in December and none to Adirondack communities.
Hochul’s presentation in the State Capitol’s Red Room in Albany kicks off weeks-long negotiations between the executive and the state Legislature with the final budget due April 1.
As in her State of the State agenda book released a week ago, Hochul’s budget outline included only one mention of the Adirondack Park. More Adirondack-specific information should become available as budget bills are released.
Environment, climate change
Holding to recent budget practice, Hochul slotted $400 million for the Environmental Protection Fund, which historically has supported Adirondack-related projects including visitor use management, trail work and visitor centers. It’s unclear if Adirondack groups, who asked the governor and legislators to allocate $10 million to forest preserve specific projects, will get their wish.
Hochul did propose $95 million for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to fix dams, rehabilitate campgrounds and improve state land access, fish hatcheries and trails.
Adirondack groups also requested more staff for the DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests but the governor did not cite the department in her list of state agencies getting additional state workforce investments. The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation was mentioned as getting additional staff, however.
The governor’s budget includes $500 million in clean water infrastructure funding over two years. It will support municipal drinking water and wastewater treatment projects.
In the 2022 environmental bond act, Hochul is proposing $250 million to promote voluntary home buyouts in flood-prone communities.
She also proposed launching a new $40 million program that will support low-and-moderate-income residents with repairs following “a catastrophic event.” Another $130 million is proposed for a Green Resiliency Grant program to support flood control infrastructure.
The governor’s budget plan highlighted funds already committed last year in the bond act spending – $500 million to support the transition of bus fleets to zero-emission vehicles. Republican lawmakers, including some from the North Country, have criticized the governor’s requirement for school districts to convert bus fleets to electric motors, characterizing the initiative as an multi-billion-dollar unfunded mandate.
Renewable energy projects across the state could also see some funding and policy attention this year. The governor proposed even greater streamlining of environmental permitting for large-scale renewable projects to include a new state transmission permitting process.
As utilities switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, the governor is also proposing legislation intended to protect customers from bearing the brunt of the transition’s cost. Called the Affordable Gas Transition Act, the law would eliminate certain restrictions on the Public Service Commission and establish new rules on extending gas service.
Though it’s unlikely the Adirondacks will see any of this money, the governor is proposing to spend $47 million on planting about 25 million trees by 2033. The project is intended for urban communities.
Housing continued to be a top priority of the Hochul administration. The governor announced a $25 billion five-year housing plan to create 100,000 homes.
The budget also proposes $500 million over two years to build housing on state-owned lands. It is unclear if closed prisons in the Adirondacks, including the Moriah Shock Correctional Facility, could be targeted for this money.
“Sites will be made public individually as the Governor issues requests for proposals,” said a Hochul spokesperson.
The budget plan calls for the money to be used by state agencies to reuse existing state properties for housing.
State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said he was encouraged by the proposal, but worried about another that could “offset” any benefits. In her budget book, Hochul suggested up to five additional correctional facility closures could be coming, which Stec said “could potentially have a detrimental impact on our region.” Hochul said the legislation allowing for these closures with 90 days’ notice “will allow for an increase in the operational efficiency of the correctional system.” It is unclear if any prisons in the Adirondacks could be targeted.
Tourism and redevelopment
The Lake Placid-based Olympic Regional Development Authority was notably mentioned in Hochul’s budget book. The governor proposes it will receive $82.5 million in new capital funding to support continued maintenance and enhancements to the state’s alpine and Nordic Olympic facilities. That is a $17.5 million cut from what it received in last year’s budget, but $2.5 million more than what ORDA officials had thought they would be given in December.
The Hochul administration will continue investing in the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative with another round of $100 million in grants. Last month, during an infrequent Adirondack visit, Hochul awarded Lake George one such grant for $10 million.
The governor’s budget book also highlighted other funding mechanisms to assist rural communities including $100 million for New York Forward, a program similar to the Downtown Revitalization Initiative but specifically for hamlets, villages and neighborhoods. The state plans to invest $58.5 million in tourism and advertising campaigns and $50 million for the Restore New York Communities Program, which helps municipalities pay for demolishing and rehabbing vacant and abandoned properties.