July 13, 2007
Protect the environment
Most New Yorkers likely think of the state's Environmental Protection Fund as the pot of money used to buy up tracts of open land and protect them from development. But that's only part of the story. The fund also helps to finance a wide array of other critical environmental needs. They include, but are not limited to, supporting municipal recycling programs and landfill closures; preserving farmland; caring for state parks; guarding natural resources; mapping breast cancer on Long Island; and helping to support zoos and botanical gardens.
It takes a lot of money to attain these broad goals, and the Legislature, to its credit, approved a bill last month to increase the Environmental Protection Fund from $225 million to $300 million by 2009. The question now is whether Gov. Spitzer will sign it into law.
Mr. Spitzer has publicly supported adding money to the fund, but when he did so he was anticipating the Legislature would provide the money by expanding the state bottle bill to include many beverage containers that are not covered under existing law. But the bigger, better bottle bill, as it is informally known, never passed.
Without that new source of revenue, there is speculation that Mr. Spitzer is reluctant to earmark the added money and environmentalists are worried he might veto the bill. Given Mr. Spitzer's ambitious agenda, including expanding health care coverage for New York's uninsured, such hesitation is understandable. But environmentalists are right when they say the logical source of the added money is the real estate transfer tax, which traditionally has been used to finance the fund. The tax, which had been projected to generate about $700 million, is expected by some to raise more than $1 billion at a time when real estate activity in the state is booming.
In a sense, the environmentalists are asking for something that is owed the fund. That's because former Gov. George Pataki, despite his otherwise admirable stewardship of the environment, borrowed $325 million from the fund to balance past budgets, and never repaid the money. That is the kind of fiscal gimmickry, rooted in the Albany culture, that Mr. Spitzer swore he would change on his first day in office.
Now he has an opportunity to do just that. He can, and should, sign the bill into law.
THE ISSUE: Gov. Spitzer may veto a bill to increase the Environmental Protection Fund.
THE STAKES: Many worthwhile programs hang in the balance.