By Michael Virtanen
New York’s new budget adopted by the state legislature dropped the Cuomo administration’s proposal to authorize tax cuts for owners of twenty-five-acre parcels who protect their forests. The existing program gives forestry tax breaks to owners of fifty acres or more.
Separately, the administration’s proposed payments in lieu of property taxes on state-owned land, with increases capped at 2 percent yearly, also failed to make it into the last budget bill passed before the state’s new fiscal year began April 1.
Both were closely watched in the Adirondack Park, the PILOT payments because they were expected to limit increases in the more than $70 million in property taxes the state pays annually to the region’s municipalities.
The private-land tax proposal, called Empire Forests for the Future Initiative, had support from environmentalists and contained a promise that the state would help cover lost municipal receipts from landowners who got tax reductions.
In the March/April issue of the Explorer, Peg Olsen, head of the Adirondack chapter of the Nature Conservancy, argued that the Empire Forest initiative would conserve timberlands and provide tax relief to local governments.
The New York State chapter of the Nature Conservancy issued a statement Monday that it was disappointed by the rejection of the initiative.
“That proposal–which received support from business and conservation groups as well as a broad bipartisan coalition in both houses–would have helped improve management and stewardship on the state’s vast privately owned forest lands, which account for 75 percent of New York’s forests,” said Jessica Ottney Mahar, the state organization’s policy director. “This initiative would have created environmental benefits including water-quality improvement, wildlife habitat, and climate-change mitigation, while providing tax relief for forest landowners and supporting jobs in the forest-products industry. This was one of the greatest missed conservation opportunities in the budget this year, and we ask that legislative leaders get behind the proposal for next year’s budget.”
The budget contains $300 million for New York’s Environmental Protection Fund for the year. It promises to spend $65 million to help rid upstate lakes of algae blooms. The EPF also is used to pay for land conservation.
It has $250,000 for the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation to continue monitoring for the effects of acid rain, airborne mercury and other pollutants.
It continues New York’s $2.5 billion clean water initiative for a second year with grants and bonding for sewer and water system repairs and upgrades as well as watershed protections.
Click here to read details of the budget.