$4.2B bond act touted as path to green jobs | News

ALBANY — Dozens of environmental groups have teamed up with several politically influential trade unions to advocate for the authorization of $4.2 billion in state borrowing to pay for new water infrastructure and projects aimed at protection from climate change.

Getting the bond act approved will take the consent of New York voters in the Nov. 8 general election.

Supporters are seeking to drive home the message that if the borrowing is approved, it would result in the creation of 84,000 new jobs across the state.

GREEN JOBS BOND ACT

Dubbed the “Clean Air, Clean Water, and Green Jobs Bond Act,” the measure represents the first time since 1996 that New Yorkers will have an opportunity to decide at the ballot box whether the state should add to its debt to address concerns dealing with the environment, climate change, conservation and wildlife protection.

Jessica Ottney Mahar, New York policy director for The Nature Conservancy, said her organization and other supporters are making the case that the money generated from the sale of the bonds will be leveraged with federal infrastructure funding.

“This money will help upgrade drinking water infrastructure and wastewater infrastructure,” Ottney Mahar said. “And it’s actually a perfect time to make that investment because of the federal money that’s coming. So that’s really exciting.”

The coalition seeking to build public support for the initiative going into the November election is calling itself New Yorkers for Clean Water & Jobs.

1996 MEASURE

In 1996, the administration of then Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, built a winning coalition for the environmental bond act approved by voters that year. That campaign also focused on the prospect of thousands of new jobs in the green energy sector while expanding land conservation and other environmental programs.

A New York Times article published two weeks before the 1996 vote remarked that Pataki succeeded in making the bond act “a rallying issue for politicians of all stripes.”

While Republicans are often fiscal hawks, Ottney Mahar said she is optimistic the 2022 bond act will generate broad-based support from the electorate.

“These are not issues that are red or blue,” she said, observing the goals of clean water and air are supported by people from all political backgrounds.

STEC VIEW

Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, is a fiscal hawk who has warned that increased borrowing brings greater fiscal strains on state government.

But with the bond act, he said, “If there is a silver lining here, at least this is constitutional borrowing because it would be voter approved. So much of state borrowing is not constitutional because it’s not voter approved.”

Stec said he voted to authorize having the bond act question go on the state ballot to give citizens a chance to decide the issue themselves.

“I’ve been saying for years that we spend too much money,” Stec said. “But we can’t just go cold turkey and not spend any money at all” at a time when many communities need updated water and sewer infrastructure.

The bond act, if approved, will require that 35% of the revenue go to benefit “disadvantaged communities.”

BUSINESS PLAN

Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Otsego County, said many towns in his legislative district have suffered major storm damage during devastating floods. He said he wants to make sure the communities he represents will be eligible for the funds and given fair consideration when they put forward the projects they would like to see funded.

Oberacker said he also wants to consult with the New York Farm Bureau on any concerns the agriculture sector has with the proposal.

“The details of this are going to be very important,” said Oberacker. “As a businessman, I want to see a business plan.” He also suggested there be close oversight of the spending to prevent waste and inefficiency with taxpayer resources.

ADDITIONAL STATE SPENDING

According to Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group, giving the green light for the bond act to go on the ballot was a significant achievement of this year’s legislative session.

“With billions of dollars in funding available for water quality improvements, habitat restoration and climate resilience on the ballot in November, we are urging voters to vote ‘Yes,’” Riverkeeper said in a statement.

But with many New Yorkers struggling to keep up with sharp cost increases for gasoline and groceries, Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, predicted some voters may be adverse to authorizing additional state indebtedness.

“Reckless spending and budgeting are huge parts of what drive up the cost of living here,” Barclay said. “I expect voters will think twice about approving a $4.2 billion environmental bond act when simply putting gas in the car or food on the table keeps getting more difficult.”

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