Last Thursday, Governor Paterson announced a two-year, $5 billion deficit reduction plan (DRP) to eliminate the state's current budget without raising taxes. Among other things, the plan calls for a transfer of $10 million from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) to the state's General Fund. The New York Legislature is holding hearings this week on the budget proposal, and NRDC is strongly urging our legislators to say "no" to further environmental funding cuts.
New York is facing serious budget woes. Even as the recession begins to recede, we're all - states and the average American alike - facing the challenges of balancing what remains of our bank accounts. But cutting corners on the EPF is bad for our state's economic and environmental health.
The EPF is funded through a dedicated revenue source that was established so that our critical environmental programs can be carried out in both good and bad economic times. And New York's ocean and Great Lakes provide millions of dollars for the state's economy and thousands of jobs. In 2004, New York's coastal counties had 17,558 ocean sector establishments, such as seafood markets, boat and ship building, and tourism, which contributed more than 356,200 jobs and $11.5 billion in wages. And ocean sector industries contributed a total of more than $24.6 billion to the state's gross domestic product. Long Island Sound alone contributes roughly $8.5 billion a year to the regional economy through boasting, fishing, swimming and sight-seeing activities. These jobs rely on healthy ocean resources.
The Governor is also being deceptive about the scale of his actions. His press release states that "... it is fully expected that after implementation of the DRP, the State would still be able to meet its original 2009-10 EPF cash spending plan of $180 million, which is equal to record 2008-09 levels." The problem is - the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a budget that promised $222 million to the EPF in 2009-10, and, in addition to this $10 million cut, he already withheld $42 million earlier this year from what was promised to New York citizens.
That's $52 million - nearly 25 percent - the Governor is actually taking back in total from the EPF, and the fund can't take the cut. Repeated "sweeping" of funding from the EPF into the General Fund over time has led to largely unbalanced books, where state agencies are struggling to pay past due notices and shortchanging important research projects and on the ground actions that will restore and protect our ocean health. Over the past 7 years, close to half a billion dollars that was dedicated to restoring the state's environment has been taken for other purposes. Scientists, not-for-profit partners, and local governments aren't getting paid on time, despite delivering the work the state approved and promised to fund.
Already the state's failure to deliver on EPF funding has resulted in the loss of the state's whale monitoring project. This multi-year project uses acoustic buoys to monitor the migration paths whales are taking off our shores so that we can help prevent ships from running over them and make sure we're developing our offshore energy resources outside of their routes. We learned a lot in year 1 - including that the whales are much closer than we ever thought to our shoreline. But we need two more years of research in order to establish the trend and make our initial down payment scientifically worthwhile. Around $400,000 was needed to fund year 2 of the research - and the time to get the buoys out this season has come and gone.
EPF funding is essential to ensuring that the economic and environmental engines that are our oceans are healthy and able to support us. The Legislature must act to protect our environmental resources, and the health and wellbeing of this and future generations, by preventing further cuts to the EPF and encouraging the promised funding to be paid out.