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Cuomo looking to fund environmental initiatives


Governor Cuomo says he’ll increase funding to environmental projects as well as state parks, in his 2016 budget. The news was applauded by environmentalists, as well as some business leaders.

Governor Cuomo is releasing parts of his 2016 agenda in the days leading up to his State of the State Address. In a speech on Long Island, he said that he’ll increase the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, which languished during the long recession and slow economic recovery.

“It’s been depleted over the years," Cuomo said.

“I want to fund it at $300 million, which will be the highest level in history.”

Cuomo froze the environmental fund at $134 million a year when he first took office, citing a $10 billion budget gap. This year, the state is running a surplus.

The governor says he will also increase funding to state parks in his new budget. In addition, he’s adding $100 million for grants to improve drinking water and waste water treatment.

Environmental groups are overjoyed, saying it’s been a goal for years to fully finance the fund, which was created by the current governor’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, 23 years ago. 

Jessica Ottney, with the Nature Conservancy, says the news comes as a very pleasant surprise. 

“This is absolutely an historic moment,” Ottney said. “The entire community is thrilled.”

She says the fund has paid for environmental projects in every county of the state, including improving public lands.

Cuomo and the legislature decide how to divide the money between different categories, including farmland preservation and recycling projects. Groups then apply for grants. Ottney says some have been waiting as long as a decade for a chance for funding.

“There’s a tremendous need for this funding,” she said.

The state’s Business Council is also pleased with the increased environmental funding, saying it helps in everything from land conservation to pollution prevention.

Cuomo also says he’s thinking big on infrastructure projects. He’s proposing building a third track for the Long Island Railroad, and better public transit access to the airports. In Rochester, he talked of increased funding for downtown revitalization projects. He says he’ll be making announcements in multiple regions of the state in coming days, to announce more plans.

The governor is also pressing the State Senate to agree to pass a law to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for workers not covered by his executive action that apply to fast food workers and state workers. He’s said he’ll offer tax cuts to small businesses as a deal sweetener. Cuomo repeated that promise, and offered details.

“This will be about a  $1.5 billion dollar tax cut to over one million small businesses,” Cuomo said. “It’s exactly the signal that we want to send.”

Cuomo says he’ll reduce corporate taxes for small employers from 6.5 percent to 4 percent. Small businesses where owners pay state income taxes instead will be able to exclude 15 percent of their income from taxes.  He says over a million small employers would see benefits beginning in 2017.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.