Thursday, June 21, 2012

NEWS BLOG: New York state budget flaw could mean conservation funding loss

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2012 at 9:53 AM

The other day, Audubon New York sent out a press release warning that language in the state budget may cause the state to lose some federal conservation funding.

The state might have to forfeit $20 million worth of federal conservation funding if the state legislature doesn't fix the issue by the end of the session, says the Audubon release. Well, today is the last day of the session. And legislators haven't introduced any legislation to correct the issue, says Sean Mahar, Audubon's director of government relations.

The issue at hand is fund sweeps and transfers. In his budget proposal earlier this year, Governor Cuomo included language that would let him move money between agencies and authorities without the legislature's approval. The final budget passed by the legislature included that authority, though in a scaled-back version.

The budget authorizes sweeps and transfers from special revenue accounts, including the state Conservation Fund, which holds revenues from fishing and hunting licenses. Audubon's press release says that the state is required to put up matching funds for the federal conservation programs, and that the state's share comes from the Conservation Fund. The federal government is already withholding its funding, which goes toward wildlife management area maintenance, wetland habitat restoration and mapping, and fisheries research.

Fund sweeps have long been a sore issue with environmentalists. Republican and Democratic governors have pulled money from the Environmental Protection Fund to close budget gaps; the Adirondack Council says almost $450 million has been swept from the fund in the past six years. The money is supposed to be used for environmental, open space, and recycling projects, as well as landfill closures.

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