Gov. Andrew Cuomo 's budget proposal calls for a $19 million boost in the state's $134 million Environmental Protection Fund, which goes for open space preservation, parks, improving water quality, and recycling and waste disposal projects. That's not a lot, considering the need, but it's better than the zero increase of the last three years, and far better than raiding the fund, as Gov. David Paterson did repeatedly to balance the budget.
The principal source of dollars for the EPF is the Real Estate Transfer Tax. That's because the Legislature realized, when it created the dedicated fund in 1993 during a recession, that these projects, and the jobs they provide, are so important they should be funded in good economic times and bad.
Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. Even as the Real Estate Transfer Tax was rising, providing more dollars for the general budget, Paterson was withholding already-appropriated money from the EPF and then cutting the fund from $222 million to $134 million in 2008-09.
And there it has remained until now, with farmland protection programs starving for money, permits taking so long to be issued that business groups joined environmentalists in lobbying for an increase in the fund, and the fund itself experiencing cash-flow problems.
When Cuomo became governor last year, there was widespead relief when he said he wouldn't cut the fund further. But then he vetoed legislation that would have started restoring the fund to its previous levels by adding $10 million a year for six years.
At the time, Cuomo said he had his own plan, and this $19 million appears to be it. We hope this is only part one and there's more to come the next few years, because the EPF needs and deserves it.