Hochul gets pushback over state budget plans

Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during a joint press conference with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan in New York City on Tuesday. Courtesy of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office

NEW YORK — Gov. Kathy Hochul inadvertently started negotiations for the next state budget Tuesday afternoon during an announcement about the state’s efforts to combat global warming during Climate Week, drawing fiscal pushback from Republicans.

Hochul will speak with legislative leaders Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, about committing an additional $1 billion to the state’s Environmental Bond Act proposal to fund environmental infrastructure projects to go before New York voters in November 2022.

The governor will ask the Legislature to include a total $4 billion to invest in environmental bonds in the 2022-23 budget, which deadlines April 1.

“A $3 billion bond act — it sounds like a lot, right?” Hochul said during a joint press conference Tuesday at the Jacob K. Javits Center Green Roof in Manhattan. “... the voters will be asked to approve $4 billion investment in the future of our state, our nation and our planet. And that, to me, is a small price to pay.”

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo pulled the original legislation from the 2020 ballot due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on state finances.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan spoke after Hochul’s remarks to highlight state investments to battle the climate crisis in wake of devastation onslaught by hurricanes Henri and Ida within the last month.

“On the other side of this crisis, we all know there’s opportunity. When the president hears climate, he hears jobs,” Regan said, adding thousands of jobs will be created to re-energize the power sector, spur electric school bus and vehicle manufacturing and making schools more energy efficient.

“... The announcements that the governor just laid out embody the promise of making smart strategic investments in climate resiliency and in protecting overburden communities from pollution — investments that could not have been, or never be, more urgent,” he said.

Gov. Hochul wants an additional $1 billion added to the Environmental Bond Act to build additional support for robust environmental infrastructure projects across the state. Details about how the initial $3 billion will be spent remain scarce, but are anticipated for restoration and flood risk reduction, open space land conservation and recreation projects, water-quality and resilient infrastructure improvements and more.

The extra $1 billion price tag amounts to an average $36 per New York family for the next 20 years, Hochul said, comparing the cost to dinner for two.

“I’m willing to invest in that. I think most New Yorkers, hopefully all New Yorkers, will be willing to invest in that,” the governor said.

“Voters ... now they see the reality of how we can make sure that we are more prepared and more resilient for the impending storms that we know are just around the corner,” she added.

Representatives with Democrats in the Senate Majority said Tuesday the additional bond amount will be later discussed and negotiated as a conference.

“The Senate Democratic Majority has taken aggressive action to pass the strongest environmental legislation in the nation, including the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and ensuring the current Environmental Bond Act has advanced,” Senate Leader Stewart-Cousins said Tuesday. “We have also passed major climate change legislation requiring new zero-emission vehicles by 2035, reducing plastic use, including plastic bags, and protecting our natural resources. After years of the Senate Republicans promoting climate change denial, our Democratic Majority has stepped up to make New York state a leader, and we look forward to working with Gov. Hochul to continue those efforts.”

Standing with Regan and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos on Tuesday, Gov. Hochul also announced $600 million to communities statewide through the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, Water Quality Improvement Project Program and Intermunicipal Grant programs to fund projects to upgrade infrastructure and make communities more resilient to flooding and other severe weather events.

State Republicans were quick to slam the governor for proposing climate solutions with a hefty cost that will increase the burden on New York taxpayers.

“The Republican Conference has supported responsible environmental programs that protect our natural assets without bankrupting New York’s hardworking families and businesses,” Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said Tuesday. “Contrast that with the Senate Democrats, who advance a climate agenda that will cost struggling New York families dearly in higher taxes.”

In 2017, Republicans, who led the Senate at the time, passed the state’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act investing $2.5 billion in clean and drinking water projects, according to conference representatives Tuesday.

Staffers also noted the state GOP also helped create the state’s Environmental Protection Fund in 1993, contributing an annual $300 million for environmental protections and put a $1.75 billion Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act before voters in 1996.

Assembly Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, slammed Democrats’ high price tag to combat climate change. Meeting climate goals is a nonpolitical, nonpartisan necessity, he said, but does not have to be unrealistic or irresponsible.

Representatives with Democrats in the Assembly Majority conference did not return requests for comment Tuesday.

The state will also commit $10 million to the Publicly Owned Treatment Works Asset Management Program to help municipalities monitor, protect and responsibly plan upgrades for wastewater infrastructure systems at no cost and $5 million in Green Innovation Grant Program for green infrastructure to address stormwater and energy efficiency, according to the governor’s office.

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