Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Budget Outlook

Environmental Advocates of New York have offered an assessment of Gov. Spitzer's budget proposal as it affects environmental issues.

1. Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) staffing. The agency will see a slight net increase in staff, with four new positions. This is good news as we’d heard from many sources to anticipate staff cuts at the agency.

2. Brownfields Cleanup. The Governor is proposing major reforms to the tax credits associated with the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program, in line with what we’ve been lobbying for the last few years. These reforms are intended to keep overly generous tax credits under control and provide larger tax credits for sites cleaned to a higher standard. We're told tax credits would not be granted "as-of-right" upon entrance into the program.

3. Bigger Better Bottle Bill. As he did last year, the Governor advanced his proposal to update the state’s bottle deposit law. The proposal earmarks unclaimed nickel deposits for the Environmental Protection Fund. The updated Bottle Bill would add 5-cent deposits to plastic bottles for beverages such as sports drinks, iced tea and water, among others.

4. Title V Fees. The Governor also advanced a proposal to increase fees on major sources of air pollution from $45 per ton of pollutant to $80 per ton. In addition, his proposal would eliminate the 6,000 ton cap per contaminant. Environmental Advocates has long supported increasing these fees and lifting the cap.

5. Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). The Governor's recommended EPF appropriation is for $250 million, reflecting no change from last year. Three new accounts would be created within the Fund and nine new purposes are identified for funding. The Governor also proposed transferring the Fund's unspent balance for general budget relief. We're told this "sweep" will be approximately $100 million.

6. Parks Improvements. The Governor's proposal provides $110 million for capital improvements to parks facilities, DEC campgrounds, improvements to state fair facilities, and a walking bridge over the Hudson River, among others.

7. Power for Jobs. The Governor proposed reforming New York’s Power for Jobs and Energy Cost Savings Benefits programs and creating a new 1,000 megawatt Electricity Cost Discount program. Investment in energy efficiency has been added to the criteria for awards under this program. Environmental Advocates called for similar reforms to these programs in our report, "Forecast for New York: Projected Global Warming Impacts & Next Steps."

8. Bio-Heat Tax Credit. The Governor also proposed a tax credit for the purchase of biodiesel as home heating fuel. The credit is equal to $0.01 per percent of biodiesel per gallon, not to exceed 20 cents per gallon. Incentives to burn a cleaner blend of home heating oil, such as biodiesel, will result in air quality benefits for New York State residents.

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