The Environmental Bond Act – Why People are Voting “No!”

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the November 1, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]

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(Author’s Note: What follows is a factual review of next Tuesday’s Ballot Box Proposition #1 – the 21st Century Environmental Quality Bond Act. While I try to fairly present both sides of the issue, the reader should be aware that I am co-chairman of People for People and the Environment, a non-partisan grass roots organization which has taken a position in opposition to the Bond Act.)

Last spring, in the days following the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, governor Cuomo and the rest of Albany agreed to offer voters of New York State a choice. Our state government has asked us if we will allow them to borrow nearly $2 billion for various projects, some of which deal with environmental issues.

The bond proposal also addressed the budget crisis Albany had just wrenched through. The Governor and the Legislature decided to remove from the annual budget items which could then be placed under the umbrella of “environment.”

Why focus on “Environment?” Albany realized, as any marketing agency did in the wake of the Earth Day celebration, that green sells. Everyone is pro-environment. Nobody would vote against the environment. If the state wanted to increase the chance of the electorate permitting it to borrow more than 5% of the annual budget, slapping the label “environment” on a bond proposal might be the best way to borrow that money.

The Environmental Bond Act allocates money as follows:

  • $100 million for a park in New York City;
  • $175 million for municipal parks and buildings;
  • $201 million for ongoing park maintenance;
  • $800 for purchasing more park land;
  • $525 million for solid waste and recycling; and,
  • $174 million for water quality improvement.
  • (N.B.: $135 million of the Bond Act reimburses the 90-91 budget, so these funds have already been spent.)

In reality, this “Environmental” Bond Act devotes only about a third of its money to traditional environmental projects (e.g., solid waste management and water quality control). Most of the rest of the money falls under the area of parks and recreation. For this reason, people who have been generally pro-environment (like People for People and the Environment) will be voting “No!” on this Bond Act.

Why are some still supporting the Bond Act? The most vocal supports for the Bond Act point to the need for land acquisition. They agree with Mario Cuomo who, when asked if we can really afford this bond, responded, “Can we not afford this bond?” Advocates feel too much land is being taken from public use, so we need to start buying it now. Those in favor of the bond also point to specific items which they believe will receive state money as a result of the bond.

Ironically, when Albany unveiled the Environment Bond Act it received bipartisan support. Today, only certain elected officials (including the Governor) and special interest groups (who feel they will benefit from it), continue to back the Bond Act. There exists, however, a growing ground swell of public opposition to the Bond Act.

Why the slow change of heart among so many people? We can identify several reasons. All reasons result from the details of the Bond Act. The sluggish circulation of explicit information caused the delay in vocal opposition. Indeed, people criticize the Bond Act for its vagueness. Quite simply, with the exception of the park in New York City, it remains very unclear where and how the money will exactly be spent.

Why will people vote “No!” to the Bond Act? Most people cite one of three reasons why they will vote “No!” First, they are upset at Albany’s slick and misleading advertising. Recall how only a third of the Bond goes to real environmental issues. Also remember $135 million of the bond money has already been spent as part of last year’s budget.

Secondly, they resent the fact a third of the bond includes money which should be part of the annual budget or clearly not be included at all in the bond. The $100 million for New York City’s park ranks of pure pork-barrel politics. The $175 million for municipal parks includes money for swimming pools and tennis courts. Finally, the $201 million for ongoing park maintenance has, up until this spring, always been a part of the annual budget.

Thirdly, many people call the Bond Act far too expensive and say it will lead to higher taxes. After Louisiana and Massachusetts, New York has the nation’s worst credit rating. A low credit rating means higher interest payments. Higher interest payments mean higher taxes. Higher taxes hurt everyone when the economy starts to stall. People assert now is not the time to mortgage their grandchildren’s future with such an expensive bond.

What do the “No!” voters expect to get? Unlike the special interest groups who will get something if the Bond Act passes, people who vote “No!” will not receive any direct rewards. They hope to achieve, however, a more responsible government in Albany. Many who will vote “No!” wish to see a scaled back version of this Bond brought to the voters next year.

It’s not that they’re against any environmental bond issue, it’s just that they’re against this particular bond issue. They would like to see a proposal which begins to address both the garbage crisis and the fiscal crisis.

Please remember to Vote Your Choice this Tuesday

Next Week #83: American Egalitarianism (originally published on October 25, 1990)
Next Week #85: White Cream Donuts (originally published on November 8, 1990)

[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]

Comments

  1. Chris Carosa says:

    Author’s Comment: This is sooo boring! Now. Back in 1990, it resonated with the readers. Although it sound like I’m sticking my neck out for a political cause (much like many other a newspaper publisher), in reality, as the article mentions, there was a growing chorus against this bond. In fact, the proposition lost. Not that I had anything to do with it. I was just reiterating what other people were talking about.

    Still, writing this piece was not without purpose. I was at the time very interesting in politics. I wanted others to become aware of this interest and to build some credibility. The Environmental Bond Act represented a non-controversial way to continue to slowly wade into the field. It allowed folks to see my reasoning and (hopefully) conclude it was sound.

    Here’s what did happen as a result of my involvement in this issue. People looked at me as a pro-environment kind of person. In a weird way, I became an “expert” on the topic, although I tried to defer to others. Sure, studying the Bond specifics gave me a certain degree of “expert” knowledge, but in no way could I honestly compare myself to those who had been studying the environment for years.

    One thing struck me for sure, though. I wanted to write about something light the following week.

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