November 3, 2022
By: The Editorial Board | Syracuse.com
After voters choose their candidates for Congress, governor, the state Legislature, sheriff and other local offices, they have one more question to answer on the back of the ballot:
“To address and combat the impact of climate change and damage to the environment, the “Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022″ authorizes the sale of state bonds up to four billion two hundred million dollars to fund environmental protection, natural restoration, resiliency, and clean energy projects. Shall the Environmental Bond Act of 2022 be approved?”
Our answer is “yes.”
It’s been 26 years since New York voters last approved an environmental bond act. The $1.7 billion in borrowing OK’d by voters in 1996 partly funded the cleanup of Onondaga Lake, acquired land in the Adirondack Park, closed landfills and replaced coal-fired furnaces in New York City schools, among other environmental objectives.
An earlier version of the proposition was taken off the ballot in 2020 due to the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2022 bond act would authorize the state to issue $4.2 billion in bonds for these purposes:
- $650 million for water quality and resilient infrastructure, such as sewer and stormwater repairs and upgrades, removal of lead water and protection of clean drinking water;
- $650 million for open space and recreation, such as acquiring sensitive forest land, preserving farmland and improving parks and fish hatcheries;
- $1.1 billion for flood risk reduction, such as wetland and shoreline restoration;
- $1.5 billion for climate change mitigation, such as zero-emission school buses, green buildings, and trees and reflective roofs to reduce summer heat in cities.
One study estimated the bond act will create 84,000 jobs and “leverage” another $4.7 billion in federal funding that requires a local match. At least 35% of the money must be spent in communities historically burdened by pollution and lack of environmental spending. The bond act also will help small communities that cannot afford to upgrade their sewer systems on their own, taking that burden off of local taxpayers.
These critical investments will build on $2.5 billion in water infrastructure funding the Legislature appropriated in 2017. Borrowing more money through a bond act means there is no impact on the state budget or on taxes. The debt is issued by the state Comptroller as projects are planned and approved, not all at once. Transparency is also important; annual reporting through the state Department of Environmental Conservation will allow the public to see how the money is being spent.
The bond act enjoys support from a broad and diverse coalition that includes environmental groups, labor unions, the Business Council of New York State and the New York State Association of Counties. There is no organized opposition to it.