Legislators debate halting state land purchases, cuts to environmental fund

ALBANY - State legislators vowed this week to overturn Gov. David Paterson's proposed reduction in the state Environmental Protection Fund, as nearly a dozen environmental advocates blasted the idea, while criticizing his associated proposal to freeze state land acquisitions for the next two years.

Faced with a pending $7.5 billion budget shortfall in fiscal year 2010-2011, Paterson has proposed slashing the unexpended balance in the Environmental Protection Fund to $143 million - a $79 million reduction from last year - while not spending any money at all for state land acquisition. The cash is to be moved into the state's general fund.

Dozens of environmental advocates objecting to the proposals as they testified before a joint hearing of the state Senate and Assembly Environmental Conservation committees.

Adirondack Council Legislative Director Scott Lorey told legislators that stripping the EPF of its funds is not only bad environmental policy, but could also devastate local economies.

"There are many good reasons for protecting open space. One example is that local governments receive financial assistance from state tax payments on forest preserve lands," Lorey said.

Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth said Paterson's proposal to cut nearly 130 jobs between the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Adirondack Park Agency and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will leave the state agencies unable to manage what they already own. The cuts, he said, represent a disproportionate burden on environmental programs.

"Across 24 state agencies and offices in the state, a total of 630 full-time jobs are being cut," Woodworth said. "Remember, over 130 are being cut from our environmental and park agencies."

Democratic legislators, including Long Island Assemblyman Steven Engelbright vowed to restore the EPF funding and salvage the environmental programs. He said state leaders needed to reassure citizens a "positive future" existed for them in New York State.

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