Although cleverly named the Clean Air/Clean Water Bond Act, the proposed $1.75 billion environmental bond act that will appear on the state ballot in November should have instead been called the Multibillion Dollar 1996 Legislative Pork-fest Debt Plan.
Contrary to political promises and current campaign rhetoric, the bond act will, if approved by the voters, finance all kinds of projects that bear little if any relationship to the environment.
The bond act includes pork-barrel spending for non-environmental projects such as parking lots, roads, legal fees, zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums. It also sets aside money for so-called "urban cultural parks," which include Sing-Sing Prison. Even the costs of existing state employees and expenses of projects already completed can be billed to the bond act.
How much these questionable projects will total is anyone's guess. More than two-thirds of bond act monies have not yet been allocated to identifiable projects, probably awaiting a decision as to which politician's district is most "in need" of an infusion of cash at this time.
Even commitments to worthy-sounding projects typically cited by bond act advocates (Onondaga Lake, Hudson River, New York harbor, etc.) are undermined by a provision allowing allocations to these projects to be freely interchanged -- or even completely stripped away -- without public notice.
Undeniable is the fact that not one dollar of the estimated $1.3 billion in interest payments required will be used to improve the environment. Rather, these taxpayer dollars will serve only to improve the wallets and portfolios of bankers and investors. To add to this debt burden now would be economically destructive.
We can do better than this bond act. The governor and the State Legislature could set up an iron-clad, dedicated fund to pay for environmental projects. In fact, this year Gov. Pataki proposed and the Legislature approved a 395 precent spending increase from such an account, the state's Environmental Protection Fund, over 1995-96 levels. The estimated $116 million expenditures this year from the fund will be essentially the same as would be spent in each year of the bond plan.
The fund was set up three years ago with a dedicated revenue stream specifically to avoid the need for more bond acts. This latest proposal, which opts for more debt over the responsible "pay-as-you-go" approach, contradicts the intent of the fund.
Spending for projects within the state budget process, rather than trying to go around it, also has the virtue of respecting the voters of New York, who on three occasions since 1990 have voted down proposals by two separate governors that would have increased the state's borrowing levels. The politicians were wrong then, and they're wrong now.
New York has just started down the path to economic revitalization. Returning to the gimmicks, borrowing schemes and fiscal irresponsibility of the past is a step in the wrong direction.
Thomas W. Carroll President, CHANGE-NY