Erik Kulleseid’s Testimony
Before Joint Fiscal Committees of the State Legislature on the FY2014-15 Budget
ALBANY, NY - January 28, 2015 - Senate
Finance Chair DeFrancisco and Assembly Ways & Means Chair Farrell, Chairman
O’Mara, Chairs Little and Markey, distinguished legislators – thank you for the
opportunity to discuss Governor Cuomo's proposed budget as it relates to our
state parks and the Environmental Protection Fund.
am Erik Kulleseid, Senior Vice President at the Open Space Institute and
Executive Director of its Alliance for New York State Parks program.
is one of New York's leading land and park conservation nonprofits. As such, we
are grateful that with his budget proposal, Governor Cuomo is expressing a
renewed commitment to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund and support for
farmland protection; continuing his state park revitalization initiative; and
introducing a new plan to support the growth of successful park friends groups.
its 40-year history, OSI, working with our land conservation partners, has
added more than 40,000 acres to state parks. These transactions achieve a
variety of goals, from creating new parks and adding valuable acreage, to
providing important buffer zones and connectivity.
overall effect on the state park system has been significant. OSI’s work
accounts for more than 10 percent of the state park system’s total acreage of
more than 335,000 acres.
with its Alliance for New York State Parks program, OSI has extended its
commitment to public enjoyment of parks through advocacy, private fundraising
and support of public-private endeavors that are adding to the revitalization
of New York’s magnificent state park system.
it is this ongoing revitalization of our state parks that is the focus of my
remarks today. The $110 million in state parks capital funding included in this
proposed budget builds on $270 million allocated by the Governor and the
Legislature over the past three years to restore and upgrade state parks
throughout New York. After decades of deferred maintenance and underinvestment
in our state parks infrastructure, leading to a capital backlog totaling more
than $1 billion, these investments are long overdue. We are deeply grateful to
Governor Cuomo and members of the legislature for this continuing commitment to
New York’s most spectacular natural treasures. What a stunning turnaround from
2010 when 90 parks were slated for closure!
to him and to you, great things are happening at state parks throughout New
York. From long-needed, multi-year commitments to overhaul Niagara Falls and
Jones Beach to significant improvements at Thacher and Riverbank, our state
parks are undergoing a transformation unlike anything this state has ever seen.
investments are transforming a once beleaguered system and restoring our
greatest natural treasures as sources of pride, community vitality and economic
strength. On behalf of the more than 62 million people who visit state parks
each year and the businesses and workers that benefit from the economic
activity they spur, we appreciate all Governor Cuomo and the Legislature have
done to address the park’s capital backlog needs and look forward to working
with the Senate and Assembly members to secure this latest installment in parks
the operations side of the ledger, this year’s budget once again by-and-large
freezes state parks funding at last year’s levels. For an agency that has seen
its budget cut by twenty percent over recent years in the face of rising fixed
costs, and a growing number of visitors, it is difficult to maintain confidence
that the agency or the New Yorkers it serves is truly being held harmless.
once again credit Commissioner Rose Harvey for leading the Office of Parks
during these lean times. The Commissioner’s efforts to establish operating
partnerships, improve efficiency and enhance the visitor experience shine
through with the capital projects and programs advancing through New York
referenced earlier, OSI is also grateful that the executive budget includes a
$10 million expansion of the EPF.
me to pause and offer our great thanks to members of this legislature for your
steadfast commitment to funding and maintaining the integrity of the EPF and,
in particular, for your strong effort last year to increase it. We acknowledge
the legislature’s leadership in supporting the EPF and look forward to working
with you to restore the EPF to prior funding levels and eventually its rightful
level of $300 million.
current EPF budget proposal includes a $4 million increase in open space
protection funding, and a new $50 million farmland protection initiative,
underscoring the value that smart and effective land conservation can and does
play a role in building stronger communities.
you may know, last fall, the Governor issued an Open Space Conservation Plan
emphasizing the multitude of benefits derived by effective land conservation.
The Cuomo plan underscores the importance of protecting natural resources and
stresses the important role land conservation plays in promoting clean water
and air, outdoor recreation, working farms, habitat protection and adapting to
are gratified that after years of stagnation on the part of the administration,
the governor has turned the corner on open space funding within the EPF. We are
pleased that with this proposal, the administration is returning its focus to
the economic, environmental and recreational benefits that result from smart
we are exceptionally pleased to support the governor’s inclusion of $500,000 in
the EPF for capacity-building grants to state park and historic site friends
groups. The program, to be managed by our partners at Parks & Trails New
York, is modeled on the extraordinarily successful Land Trust Conservation
Partnership administered by the DEC and the Land Trust Alliance. The program
promises to give a major boost to the nonprofit groups across the state that
work to bring private funding and volunteer labor into our unparalleled state
parks and historic sites. All New Yorkers will benefit.
you for your time this afternoon and for the work you do to advance the cause
of protecting and enhancing New York’s precious environmental and recreational