ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday canceled plans to put a $3 billion environmental bond act before the state’s voters in November, saying it will be postponed until 2021.
Cuomo said this wasn’t the right time to put the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, the first environmental bond act in decades, before voters, citing the economic uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a conference call with reporters, Cuomo said putting the bond act before voters “would not be financially prudent” at this time.
“The financial situation now is unstable, as everyone knows,” Cuomo said. “We’re waiting to see what the federal government provides in aid. We’re waiting to see what revenues come back to the state.”
Environmental groups reacted with disappointment.
“The Bond Act would have provided a desperately needed boost to our crumbling water infrastructure and would have jump started innovative energy programs, all while stimulating our economy just when we really need it,” said Peter M. Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates NY.
The money would have been borrowed, which is why it required a statewide referendum. The one-year delay will move it from a presidential election year — with typically higher voting turnout — to an off-year, when almost all elections will be for municipal and county-level offices.
Cuomo proposed the bond act in January, and it was approved by the state Legislature in early April as part of the state budget — approved even though it was already clear a pandemic would devastate the economy. A clause in the bill allowed Cuomo to stop the vote, based on state Budget Director Robert Mujica’s assessment of the state’s grim finances.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, blamed the delay on uncertainty about whether the state will see any federal financial aid to help it cope with a projected $14 billion state deficit caused by the virus’ economic devastation.
“Washington’s failure to help states just sunk a $3bil Environmental Bond Act in NY,” Kaminsky wrote on Twitter. “This will have long-term consequences re: climate change, resiliency & jobs. There is no excuse for this, it is shameful.”
The bond act called for the money to to be used for many environmental priorities, including preservation of wetland and stream habitats, and repair or removal or aging dams. It would also have invested in New York’s recreational fishing industry and the state’s fight against invasive species. It would have included $9.4 million toward the new wastewater treatment plant now under construction in Lake George.
Bill Ulfelder, New York state executive director of The Nature Conservancy, called the decision to delay the bond act a “missed opportunity.”
“While it is clear that the pandemic has had a serious impact on the economy of our state and the nation, this measure was an opportunity to create jobs and conserve the clean water, clear air, and natural resources our children and grandchildren depend on,” Ulfelder said.
The state’s last successful environmental bond act was in 1996.
“This decision is especially disappointing given @NYGovCuomo‘s leadership on climate & the environment,” New York League of Conservation Voters President Julie Tighe posted on Twitter. “The Bond Act would have supported clean air & water projects and create tens of thousands of good paying green jobs. The environment is not a luxury.”
Some groups, however, said they understand the governor’s decision.
“But it is discretionary spending at a time when the national economy is in disarray and national leadership is failing to correct course,” said Adirondack Council Deputy Director Rocci Aguirre. “Without the prospect of new federal aid to states from Congress, we understand why the governor is reluctant to move forward with new borrowing at this time.”