New York Lawmakers: Parks Need Cash Now
As the state of New York enters its third week without a budget, two legislators are calling for parks funding to be included in the emergency spending bills Gov. David Paterson is drafting to fund the bare necessities of the state, according to the Albany Times Union.
The budget was due April 1, and delays have meant that the 41 parks and 14 historic sites that Paterson proposed for funding cuts do not have money for staff. The Assembly and Senate passed budget proposals that restored the $6.3 million Paterson hoped to save through the closures, but an overall budget agreement has not been finalized.
"While we remain confident that a budget agreement will soon be reached in a manner which will prevent closures to state parks and historic sites, in the interim we must adequately fund" the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), Sen. Jose Serrano and Assemblyman Steve Englebright wrote in a joint letter to Paterson.
"The continued passage of extender bills (or the lack of a current state budget) could prevent the opening of 34 state parks come May unless future extender bills provide sufficient funding to allow OPRHP to begin preparing for the upcoming summer season," they said..
A spokesman for Paterson confirmed he had received the letter, but the governor doesn't seem ready to budge.
"I'm not putting anything into that appropriation other than what is absolutely needed," he said Thursday morning (April 15) on WOR 710-AM. The governor also criticized federal officials, who threatened last month to withhold billions of dollars of funding to the state if Paterson closes the parks, claiming his action is unallowable under rules attached to federal funding used to fund the purchase and improvement of some of the parks.
"It was a very disappointing letter, coming from the federal government, intruding on how we run New York state and how we balance our budget, when in fact it's the same federal government that collects $86.7 billion more in taxes than we get back," Paterson said. "When is somebody going to get that we're in a recession? Of all people, I would have thought that the federal government would have known that."
The federal threat — communicated by the National Parks Service — was made at the public urging of Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Ulster County.
"The federal government isn't interfering," Hinchey told the Times Union on Thursday. "The federal government is just reminding the governor that there are places like the state park in New Paltz that were helped to be initiated by federal contributions."
Hinchey, a former assemblyman, repeated his position that parks are an economic driver.
Finally, a group representing companies who hope to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation recommended parks funding be restored by selling drilling leases on state land. A moratorium on gas drilling is in place in the region as the state develops environmental guidelines associated with the drilling.
Gas drillers recommended proceeds from the sales could be invested in the Environmental Protection Fund, which has been raided in recent years to plug budget deficits.
Several environmental groups, who are lobbying for the strictest regulation of drilling, called the drillers' proposal a "stunt."