February 4, 2009
No way to fund EPF
Bottle bill not enough for environment
To close New York's huge 2009-10 budget gap, we'll need a lot of imaginative hard work. But there's a big difference between imaginative and imaginary. Gov. David Paterson seems to have crossed that line, by trying to replace the real revenue that feeds the state's Environmental Protection Fund with make-believe revenue from a perennially unpassed bill.
The fund is now being cut to $205 million. By law, it's scheduled to go to $300 million April 1. That law was passed because people like what the fund buys: open space, better parks, cleaner water. But Paterson wants to keep it at $205 million in the 2009-2010 budget. Worse, he proposes to take the real estate transfer tax revenue that feeds the fund and use that revenue to balance the budget. In its place, he wants to give the fund revenue from an expanded bottle bill. If that doesn't come through, though, the fund could end up south of $100 million.
The first hurdle is passage of the bill. Manufacturers and retailers fiercely resist expanding the current bottle bill to cover water, juice and other containers not now included. So it has always died in the Senate. With a new Democratic Senate majority, it has a better chance, but there's no guarantee it will pass this year, either.
Then there's the revenue. Instead of letting bottlers keep the unclaimed nickel deposit for each unreturned bottle, the bill would let the state grab that money back for the protection fund. But in this recession, some believe more of those bottles would be scooped up by everyday folks who need the nickels, so there would be far fewer unclaimed deposits.
Paterson seems to be cutting the environment more deeply than other program areas. That's unwise. But if he must reduce this important fund, he should at least back it with real revenue, not the pretend kind.