A coalition including environmental groups, labor and mass transit organizations is pushing for a $5 billion environment-oriented bond proposal to be put before state voters this fall.
The leaders of the Assembly and Senate environmental conservation committees are endorsing the plan, which would simply put the funding request before voters.
The proposed Clean Water, Clean Air & Green Jobs Bond Act would provide money for sewer plant upgrades, water infrastructure, energy conservation and power grid improvements, public transportation, open space and farmland protection and environmental contamination cleanups, backers said, and spur job creation in all those areas.
The $5 billion would replace environmental money that is being used to help cover multi-billon-dollar state budget deficits in recent years, they said.
“The Environmental Protection Fund has been raided to the bone. This would really help us catch up on a bunch of projects that have been neglected in the day-to-day spending,” said John Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council.
Potentially, Sheehan said, more than 100,000 jobs could be created in addressing those environmental needs, in areas from unskilled labor to green technology mechanics.
At a hearing this week by the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, representatives of organizations ranging from the Nature Conservancy to the Capital District Transportation Authority spoke in favor.
So far, no bills have been introduced in either house of the state Legislature, but that will soon change.
Environmental Conservation Chairman Robert K. Sweeney, D-Lindenhurst, is ready to back a bond act following the hearing testimony.
“He’s drafting legislation to put this before the people,” said Stephen Liss, counsel to Sweeney. If it is put on the ballot, Sweeney will work for its passage, Liss said.
Sen. Antoine Thompson, D-Buffalo, is chairman of the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee, and said he will sponsor the Assembly bill when it reaches the Senate.
“He definitely supports it,” spokeswoman Heather Zeisz said. “He supports it because it will create green jobs, improve infrastructure and clean up contaminated sites in New York state.”
However, some legislators, like Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, who is also a member of the Environmental Conservation Committee, think the borrowing is a bad idea, especially now.
“Given the state’s severe fiscal crisis, now is not the time to issue new public debt,” said Dan MacEntee, a spokesman for Little. “We hear it all the time from constituents, people are fed up with the amount of spending.”
A $5 billion bond paid back over 30 years would cost taxpayers $333.3 million per year, bond act supporters said, or about $40 per household.
Gov. David Paterson has not yet taken a position, and a call to his office on Friday wasn’t returned.
“We haven’t heard any opposition, but we don’t think this is high on their priority list,” Sheehan said.
The last successful state environmental bond act was approved by voters in 1996.
While it might seem like a bad time economically to ask voters to authorize borrowing, Sheehan said it would allow the state to leverage a lot of other federal money, including economic stimulus funds.
CDTA Executive Director Raymond Melleady, who is also president of the New York Public Transit Association, said the bond act could help transit agencies buy more electric-diesel hybrids and other environmentally friendly buses.
“Investing in transit will not only improve our environment, but it will drive our economic recovery,” Melleady said in testimony.