March 7, 2014 — The Open Space Institute is a member of the Friends of New York’s Environment, a coalition of more than 100 organizations calling on the NYS Legislature to restore funding to the Environmental Protection Fund—a program that has suffered deep cuts in recent years.
The coalition has called for a restoration of the EPF to $200 million, using the state’s expected budget surplus to reinvest in environmental initiatives that also create jobs and provide property tax relief.
However, the Governor’s budget plan calls for an EPF of $157 million, up only $4 million from the current year’s budget. By comparison, the EPF stood at $250 million as recently as 2008-09.
New York’s Environmental Protection Fund turned 20 years old last year, and in that time it has contributed $2.7 billion toward smart investments to protect our air, land and water resources. EPF funds have protected more than 618,000 acres of open space in New York, including nearly half a million acres of valuable working forest lands. In addition, it helped create nine new state parks and added 32,000 acres to existing parks.
Alongside the Friends of New York’s Environment, the chairmen of the Legislature’s Environmental Conservation Committees are urging their colleagues to add money to the EPF as they negotiate the budget and approve a final spending plan between now and the April 1 deadline. Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, D-Lindenhurst, and Senator Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, have circulated letters among their colleagues asking for support for increases in the EPF this year and we hope that imminent legislative budget counterproposals will reflect a larger EPF.
There is sound reasoning behind our push to increase EPF funding.
A recent public opinion survey shows that a majority of NY voters of diverse backgrounds and political party affiliations in every part of the state support enhancing the EPF. In the two decades since the fund was established, hundreds of communities across the state have realized the benefits of dedicated environmental spending, and this translates into strong support from local elected officials as well as the general public.
Another recent study by The Trust for Public Land shows a $7 economic benefit for every $1 invested in land and water conservation through the EPF.
The majority of the EPF’s revenue comes from an existing Real Estate Transfer Tax, which is expected to generate more than $800 million in the current fiscal year, and grow to more than $1 billion over the course of the state fiscal plan’s five-year outlook. At the same time, the amount of RETT revenue needed to make the state’s annual payments on the 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act is decreasing by millions annually, providing an opportunity to increase the EPF without increasing overall environmental spending.
The Open Space Institute strongly supports our environmental champions in the legislature and urges that the enacted budget make strong restorations to environmental funding.
New York’s parks, trails and open spaces will benefit from it, and that means we all benefit.
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