Bankrolling the green revolution takes on a new look for New York State taxpayers this election year as state officials try to avoid another polling-place rejection of environmental efforts.
The $1.75 billion Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act that Gov. Pataki proposed and the State Legislature approved already has wide support from environmental and business groups.
Opposition to the spending plan is only slowly emerging -- in marked contrast to the last environmental bond act proposal in 1990, when voters rejected a $2 billion plan that was criticized as loaded with politically engineered "pork" projects.
"I think there's a lot of support for this act," said J.B. Walsh, secretary-treasurer of the local bond advocacy committee. "You have to ask, are these projects necessary? And if they're necessary, you have to vote for what is right."
Proponents of the act, which is on the Nov. 5 ballot as State Proposition One, plan to distribute between 15,000 and 20,000 fliers in this area in the next few weeks. Backers also scheduled briefings for municipal governments and interested citizens throughout Western New York.
"We've been doing a lot of grass-roots work," said Chris Walbrecht of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "The one real benefit (this time) is that most of the business community now is behind this, and we don't have to worry about them going out and running a negative campaign."
Estimates of the bond issue's cost to taxpayers range from $3.75 to $5 per household per year for the next 30 to 40 years.
Neither Pataki, who originally proposed a $1.5 billion act, nor legislators who tacked on an additional $250 million this summer, have listed specific targets for all the money. With few exceptions, they only defined broad spending areas.
"I think it's as specific as it's going to get before the
election," said Gerald F. Mikol, Buffalo-area regional director for the Department of Environmental Conservation. "There may be some examples of projects that could be funded."
The Western New York Committee for The Clean Water/Clean Air Act has outlined several local projects that could qualify for bond-act funding. But Sen. Alfonse D'Amato -- perhaps mindful of regional opposition to the doomed 1990 act -- cautioned against regional competition for the money.
"I think it's going to be very difficult to get much more specific," he said in a recent Buffalo visit to support the bond act. "I really don't think we want to get into this area of 'am I going to get more, or less?' "
The $1.75 billion pie would be sliced into five program categories:
Clean water. The largest chunk, $790 million, would go to clean water programs. An additional $85 million would be used in other waters, including the Buffalo River. Local projects could include an expanded toxics-reduction program, erosion control, projects to reduce commercial or agricultural storm water run-off and other "non-point" pollution sources, hazardous waste collection, farmland protection, and pollution-prevention assistance programs for small businesses.
A total of $150 million is set aside for open space acquisition and $100 million for state and municipal parks projects, leading Conservative Party critics to charge that "the bond's enabling legislation includes spending for many non-environmental projects, including land purchases, parking lots and zoos." The Buffalo Zoological Society supports the act.
Also eligible, local supporters say, would be renovations at the Erie County Botanical Garden and South Park Lake, wetlands restorations on the Buffalo River and elsewhere, education programs and facilities, pesticides management, greenway trails and development of the county's proposed park system along the Buffalo River.
Safe drinking water. An additional $355 million would flow into a Safe Drinking Water program, including $265 million to start a revolving loan fund and $90 million in grants for counties, cities, towns and villages seeking to upgrade drinking water facilities.
The money would help municipalities meet tightening state and federal safety standards, a major concern for local governments.
Clean air. These projects would garner $230 million to help develop and install technologies to let businesses and schools curtail smokestack pollutants.
New York State United Teachers weighed in as a backer of the act because $125 million could be used to help 20 Buffalo and 250 New York City public schools convert from coal-burning furnaces to more efficient fuels.
Brownfields. Redevelopment of these old industrial sites would receive a $200 million boost to help municipalities recycle abandoned urban commercial areas that spread decay and poverty through neighborhoods.
High on the Erie County agenda is redevelopment of the Union Ship Canal/Hanna Furnace site in Buffalo, the Madison Wire site in West Seneca, and the Spaulding Composites and Erie Canal/Fillmore Avenue sites in the City of Tonawanda.
Solid waste. Solid Waste Initiatives would get $175 million. A $50 million recycling capital program holds the most promise for the Buffalo area.