here is a lot to be happy about in the $175.5 billion New York State Budget that passed on Saturday March 30, 2019. The Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) was refunded at $300 million, including an increase for the State Land Stewardship Line ($33 million), which pays for hiking trail maintenance and summit stewards, among other projects. Funding to fight Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) as well as other invasive species was also included in the EPF. This year there is also funding provided for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative (ADI), which will allow the organization to hire a coordinator. ADI seeks to “develop and promote strategies to help the Adirondack Park become more welcoming and inclusive of all New Yorkers.” Fortunately, the proposal to use funding from the EPF (a capital projects fund) for staff in environmental agencies was not included in the final budget. While there needs to be an increase in staffing levels in environmental agencies, depleting funding for environmental projects in the EPF is not the way to do it.
The budget also contains an important plastic bag ban that will cover grocery and retail stores. In order to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable shopping bags, the ban includes a 5 cent fee on paper bags. Sixty percent of the proceeds of the paper bag fee will support funding for public land in the EPF. ADK (Adirondack Mountain Club) is extremely pleased with the plastic bag ban, which was first proposed in Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget in January. Plastic bags have an unnecessary impact on the environment. Taking many years to decompose, plastic bags become persistent debris on our public lands and in our waterways. Additionally, plastic bag litter is mistaken for food by birds, fish, and other aquatic species causing sickness or death in tens of thousands of animals. Toxins from bag litter are also transferred through the food chain to larger species. This completely avoidable environmental impact will be significantly helped by individuals and businesses changing their behavior as a result of the ban on single-use plastic bags.
Some less fortunate parts of the budget include a failure to restore $1 million for public awareness, treatment, and prevention of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases. Senator Sue Serino stated her disappointment with the failure to include the funding to combat tick-borne diseases, “I am truly shocked by the omission of this critically important funding. With reports surfacing this week noting that New York is slated to see another boom in the tick population this spring and summer, to cut the funding we have previously been able to secure to address this epidemic is simply irresponsible.”
There was also a disappointing decrease in Open Space and Land Conservation funding from $35 million last year to $33 million in this year’s budget. The decrease continues a downward trend from $40 million in 2016-2017. This funding is essential for Forest Preserve and conservation easement purchases, which provide important recreational opportunities as well as help in building ecosystem resilience to global climate change.
Other budget disappointments include the continued lack of sufficient funding for staff of the Department of Environmental Conservation, with no increase for the short-handed New York State Forest Rangers.