Editorial: Gov. Andrew Cuomo should sign the green fund bill
Especially now, after Sandy, it's vital that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo sign a bill that would take an increasing amount of the unclaimed nickel deposit money out of the state's general coffers and use it to beef up our sadly depleted Environmental Protection Fund.
We can then use it to buy wetlands, which help protect inland areas from the storm surge, and other property that the storm has made clear is better off left to Mother Nature -- not developed.
The EPF came into existence during the administration of Cuomo's father, Gov. Mario Cuomo. One of its purposes was to buy up land in the pine barrens, to help implement the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act of 1993. Preserving that land keeps the pine barrens pristine as a custodian of pure drinking water. The fund has also been used for other environmental purposes.
But too often, governors have looked at it and seen green -- not the green of environmental preservation, but the green of immediate dollars. The bean-counters in the governor's budget office have "swept" (a polite Albany euphemism for plundered) millions of dollars from the fund to fill budget holes. So it has dwindled down to $134 million, despite legislation sponsored by Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) that would gradually have increased it to a steady $350 million. The state has not been preserving nearly as much open space as it should, and the weakness of the fund has contributed to that failure.
So Sweeney has another idea: Take the unclaimed deposit money generated by the bottle bill and gradually slide it into the fund, starting with $10 million in the 2013-14 budget. The main revenue stream for the fund will continue to be the real estate transfer tax, but the bottle bill dollars would be an important supplement.
Cuomo has three choices, and he has until 11:59 Monday to decide: He can veto the bill, let it become law without his signature, or sign it and show his commitment to a legacy of environmental protection. That third option is clearly the best.