By Gwendolyn Craig
Don’t be surprised if the state Legislature’s versions of the 2024-2025 budget reject Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposal to cut Clean Water Infrastructure Act funding in half. They may even double it, considering a statewide report showing $80 billion is needed to fix water and wastewater systems.
As they discussed the environmental components of Hochul’s $233 billion budget proposal, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Wednesday shared frustrations with the governor’s $250 million clean water cut. Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, received dozens of questions and comments about the executive’s proposal over several hours.
The funds are in demand statewide to help communities pay for water and sewage-related projects such as those on priority lists of Adirondack communities.
Seggos said the department doesn’t believe clean water funding has been cut and in fact said New York was in a “renaissance of water spending.” He pointed to state and federal funding available and the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act. Officials have committed $200 million in bond act funds to date for water infrastructure investments, the DEC said. The department also noted more than $5 billion has been awarded on clean drinking water projects over the past two years.
But lawmakers were not assuaged.
On his second round of questioning, Sen. Peter Harckham, chair of the environmental conservation committee, said he would offer a “polite ding.”
“I just want to remind everybody here the legislative intent of the bond act was to supplement, not to supplant,” Harckham said. “We can agree to disagree, but I just want to levelset for the folks here about what the legislative intent of the bond act was.”
“Noted,” Seggos responded.
Lawmakers were also concerned about Clean Water Infrastructure Act funding that remains unspent. A report released by Environmental Advocates NY shows that about $80 billion is needed to upgrade water and wastewater infrastructure across the state. The state has appropriated $5 billion, but the report notes about $1.6 billion remains unspent.
There are no statutory requirements for the funding to be awarded or spent by a certain date, and monies should be distributed more quickly, Environmental Advocates NY noted.
Sen. Liz Krueger, chair of the budget committee, asked Seggos if a lack of staffing was one of the reasons those dollars were not getting out the door.
“There’s no doubt there’s demand,” Seggos said. “It isn’t always the state. The state, as a grantor, as a loaner of dollars, we have to get good applications.” He encouraged communities to reach out to the Environmental Facilities Corporation for help in reducing errors to grant applications.
Representatives of several environmental groups told the legislators clean water funding should be boosted, some calling for $600 million.
Top photo: Sen. Peter Harckham, center, chair of the state Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee, listens during a budget hearing on Wednesday in Albany. Photo by Gwendolyn Craig