ALBANY — The Cuomo administration is pinning its environmental policy hopes on a $3 billion "Mother Nature" bond act to counter global climate change — but it remains unclear exactly how much money would go to individual programs.
The measure, should it get the green light from lawmakers, would be decided by New York voters in next November's election, when races for the White House, legislative seats and congressional districts will all be on the ballot.
At a hearing on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed $178 billion budget Monday, Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, advised state environmental conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos to ensure that the bond act, which would authorize the state to borrow the $3 billion, make it clear how those dollars would be allocated.
"I think it would be inappropriate to pass a $3 billion bond act and just turn it over to the governor so he can just do what he wants with it," Seward, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, told CNHI during a break in the proceedings. "It's important that the voters know exactly what they are going to get, with as much specificity as possible."
The senator said he is "encouraged" that Seggos has shown support for funding flooding mitigation to address the hurricane damage to several towns in Schoharie County in 2011 and to deal with lingering problems caused by more recent Mohawk Valley flooding .
The bond act is a component of Cuomo's $33 billion plan to counter climate change and foster the growth of renewable forms of energy. One of the biggest chunks from that effort is a $9 billion initiative to develop off-shore wind turbine projects.
Cuomo's goal is to phase out all power generation stations using fossil fuels by 2040.
But some environmental advocates argue the bond act would fall short of providing the funding New York needs to ensure the quality of its water, air and other natural resources.
Liz Moran, environmental policy director for New York Public Interest Research Group, contended the state should raise the target to $5 billion — and instead of getting New Yorkers to underwrite the borrowing, it should find a way to make polluters pay the tab.
Moran said the state is already facing billions of dollars in needs to address aging public water supply delivery systems.
The climate activists who began shouting during Seggos's testimony insisted the state come up with even more money, urging that $10 billion be dedicated to what they called a "Green New Deal" and arguing the governor's plan would have working people paying for it through higher utility rates.
Seggos said Cuomo's initiative already amounts to a green new deal, predicting it will help make New York a leader in the "green economy."
The bond act initiative is already encountering skepticism in some quarters.
Ken Girardin, an analyst who tracks energy issues for the Empire Center for Public Policy, said the state already has funding mechanisms to support the efforts the bond act could address.
"Bonding must be done carefully because it saddles the next generation with the cost of today's spending decisions," Girardin said. "But this one looks increasingly like a $3 billion sound byte shoe-horned into the State of the State."
Cuomo first broached the bond act in his State of the State speech, kicking off this year's legislative session.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .