In the News  Archive

Editorial: State budget a mixed bag for Adirondack Park

The Sun Community News
March 30, 2016

If the past five years are any indication, state leaders will have submitted a sixth on-time budget by late Thursday.

A number of thorny issues still needed to be hammered out as the “three men in a room” entered the home stretch at the beginning of the week, including a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave and education funding for public schools.

Other spending items appeared to be finalized — including funding for some of the biggest issues facing the Adirondack Park.

All signs seem to indicate legislators will approve Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s request to fully fund the Environmental Protection Fund to the tune of $300 million, nearly doubling the $177 million allocated this fiscal year.

For years, green groups have lobbied to restore this funding, which addresses a host of issues in one fell swoop, from habitat restoration, farmland protection to aiding municipalities with sorely-needed wastewater treatment infrastructure.

Total appropriations to address invasive species have been bumped to $10 million. Not only will this funding aid in continued efforts to combat what is an economic threat as well as a natural one, but also put the state on the global map as an international leader in the field.

That’s something to be proud of.

Considering the funds come from bank settlement funds, the decision is a no-brainer.

Kudos to the governor for this bold proposal.

There’s also a lot to love about the continued allocation of funds to boost tourism initiatives, broadband investment and the Upstate Revitalization Initiative that has brought $423 million of state investment to the region in the past half-decade.

But we’re less enthralled by the continued freezing hire at state agencies.

The state loves to buy land, but they don’t seem to want to invest enough money into ensuring its upkeep.

Both the Department of Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency are understaffed.

In fact, the APA has lost 25 percent of its workforce in the past seven years.

Can you imagine a private business losing 25 percent of their staff and still being able to operate?

The DEC, too, faces a crunch, as revealed by a 2014 state audit that noted a decline of 300 full-time staff between 2003-14, but a 27.8 percent increase in spending during that same period.

DEC officials face a dizzying array of tasks, from overseeing permitting processes, enforcing what seems to be an ever-expanding list of new regulations to keeping visitors safe, including dangerous rescue operations over challenging terrain.

While we understand keeping government spending flat is the keystone in the governor’s property tax freeze program, it’s also important to give state agencies the tools they need to carry out their mandates.

Gov. Cuomo has acknowledged the upstate-downstate divide remains an important dynamic of governing the state.

Problem is, the governor only pulls out this argument when it furthers his narrative — like earlier this year, for instance, when he told newspaper editorial boards that his upstate budget initiatives may be railroaded by downstate legislative leaders.

Cuomo said upstate residents needed to join lawmakers as a counterweight against policies that would jeopardize a half-decade of state investment designed to lift upstate out of its funk.

So by this logic, certain allowances should also be made for upstate municipalities that wouldn’t otherwise be applicable elsewhere — like the aforementioned staffing issues, for instance. Or the slow burning minimum wage debate. Or any other policy, really, that puts the region at a disadvantage compared to the New York metro area.

The Adirondack Park is economically hamstrung by its unique status, we get it. As such, all state residents as well as elected officials need to view the park as a long-term investment with unique perks — not a bargaining chip in an upstate-versus-downstate tug of war.

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