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Cuomo scraps $3 billion environmental bond act

New York's Adirondack Mountains.
New York's Adirondack Mountains.
New York's Adirondack Mountains.
Credit New York Now
New York's Adirondack Mountains.

New York, fearing the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, has decided to pull an item from this year’s ballot that would have asked voters to decide if the state should borrow $3 billion to fund a series of environmental projects related to climate change.

The Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, as it was called, was pulled from the ballot Thursday by the state Division of Budget over concerns about the state’s finances.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed during a call with reporters that the state’s fiscal health wasn’t secure enough to justify an initiative that would sink the state further in debt at a time when New York is currently facing a projected $14 billion budget deficit over the next year.

“The financial situation is unstable,” Cuomo said. “I don't think it would be financially prudent to do it at this time.”

The idea was proposed in January by Cuomo, who included the measure in his executive budget address. Lawmakers agreed on the initiative in early April, but because of the size of the borrowing, it also would’ve had to be approved by voters under state law.

The question was set to appear on the ballot in November. Cuomo said he’ll try to renew the initiative next year.

Under the legislation approved in April that sent the proposal to the ballot, the state Division of Budget was given the power to pull the question from voters if the $3 billion initiative was expected to have an adverse effect on the state’s economy.

But that also means the state Legislature will have to reapprove the measure next year, according to the legislation. The text of the bill says that, if the question is pulled from the ballot, the law passed in April is deemed repealed.

It’s unclear how the state’s finances will shake out in the meantime, meaning lawmakers will likely have to reassess their efforts when they restart negotiations next year.

Environmental groups were disappointed in the administration’s decision to pull the question from the ballot, saying it’s a missed opportunity for the state to invest in jobs and infrastructure with long-term debt. The borrowing would have been paid off over decades.

“Today’s news that the New York State Division of Budget and the Cuomo Administration have decided to remove the Environmental Bond Act from the November ballot is a missed opportunity,” said Bill Ulfelder, executive director of the Nature Conservancy of New York.

“While it is clear that the pandemic has had a serious impact on the economy of our state and the nation, this measure was an opportunity to create jobs and conserve the clean water, clean air, and natural resources our children and grandchildren depend on.”

Copyright 2020 WXXI News

Dan Clark is the host and producer of New York NOW, a weekly television show focusing on state government produced by WMHT in Albany. Clark has been reporting on New York state government and politics for the last six years, during which time he's worked out of the state Capitol in Albany. Clark reported for the national political fact-checking publication PolitiFact, the Buffalo News, the statewide political television show Capital Tonight, and most recently the New York Law Journal. At the New York Law Journal, Clark has focused on state legal challenges to President Donald Trump, as well as litigation concerning laws enacted by the New York State Legislature. Clark covered the Legislature in each role he's held and is a familiar face to state lawmakers and staff. Clark is a native of Afton, NY in Chenango County. He's lived in Albany with his husband since 2011.