With Memorial Day around the corner, New Yorkers (hardly quiet about most things) are visibly upset with Gov. Paterson’s closing of several state parks in hard economic times.
Paterson, to deflect the blowback, proposed today to keep the parks open, but with a catch: he wants to safeguard parks by eviscerating the much bigger Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), a longstanding source of environmental funding not only for parks, but for programs as diverse as ocean conservation, land preservation purchases, zoos, clean water technologies and a vast range of other green investments.
Specifically, Paterson proposes reducing the central funding source of EPF, the Real Estate Transfer tax (RETT), by $67 million, from $200 million to $133 million. This proposed cut comes at a time when that tax appears to be generating substantially more revenue than last year.
At the same time, he wants to take $6 million out of EPF’s hide for the general parks budget, $5 million more to pay taxes on state lands, and yet another $5 million to pay for state park staff. None of this $16 million had ever come from the EPF in prior years – and it makes no sense to raid one green budget pot to make up for his cuts to another.
Next, the Governor would cut funding for the remaining 50 EPF programs by 4.5% across the board. All told Paterson inflicts a disproportionately large cut of over 30% on the state’s biggest environmental programs.
Take about compounding your mistakes.
Already, the Governor’s budget proposal earlier this session severely underfunded the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for starters. Those cuts are what forced the park closings that stirred up the hornets nest in the first place. Both the Senate and the Assembly were able to provent any significant closures by passing budget resolutions that refunded the parks. In their budgets, the legislative houses also made dramatic restorations to the EPF and rejected raiding EPF dollars to make up for the parks cuts– but the Governor refuses to get on board.
The drive to shut down parks was always short-sighted and ill-advised; parks generate revenue for New York State and are the vacation destination for huge numbers of moderate-income families who are pinched by the enduring economic downturn.
But Paterson ignored the legislative proposal now on the table. Instead of negotiating, he’s issuing a fiat, his back to the wall. All sides have long hardened into a permanent late afternoon of political rigidity – the budget was due April 1. It would be much better for the Governor to start listening to the legislature, come up with a sensible EPF budget largely agreed upon by both houses, and open the parks as summer nears.