The budget environment - Newsday

Daily Point

Seeking a balance on wetlands, EPR

State lawmakers are being sent home Thursday even though the deadline for a new state budget is midnight. Among the issues slowing budget negotiations are environmental disputes over wetlands protection and the recycling program known as extended producer responsibility, or EPR.

Wetlands first.

No one disputes the need for further protections. The argument is over the acreage at which mandatory permitting would begin. Currently, protections exist only for freshwater wetlands larger than 12.4 acres. Steve Englebright, the Long Island chairman of the Assembly’s environmental conservation committee, wants to reduce that threshold to 1 acre.

That would be great, environmentalists say, but they contend that level of monitoring is beyond the personnel-strapped Department of Environmental Conservation. As Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito told The Point, “One acre requires too many staff people, we live in the realistic world.”

A slew of environmental organizations around the state — including CCE, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York League of Conservation Voters, and The Nature Conservancy — wrote to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Wednesday, asking him to intervene.

The letter said that “we will find it unacceptable if the Assembly is unwilling to negotiate on the acreage threshold for mandatory permitting … Policy concessions made by the Governor and Senate reflect a good-faith effort to move towards the Assembly position, and the Assembly must continue to work towards a middle ground, especially on policy components that have significant budget implications. Compromise is an essential and needed element of lawmaking and it is the only way to achieve meaningful protections for our wetlands.”

And, Esposito said, Heastie responded. The Assembly, Senate and governor’s office are talking and zeroing in on a figure roughly midway between 1 and 12.4.

Encouraged, many of those same groups plus others representing local governments, recyclers, and businesses wrote to Heastie on Thursday, asking for similar involvement to make sure that EPR — which aims to make producers responsible for reducing packaging and increasing recycling — is included in the budget and not punted to the rest of the session.

“We appreciate Heastie’s work in clearing up these logjams,” Esposito said.

In Albany, clearing logjams is the real March madness.

— Michael Dobie @mwdobie

Talking Point

Buffalo (dollar) Bills

With the Buffalo Bills on track to benefit from hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for construction of a new stadium in a deal made by Gov. Kathy Hochul, The Point wondered about the political contribution history for the team’s billionaire owners, Terry and Kim Pegula.

The husband, who made a fortune in fracking, and wife personally gave $55,000 to then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2014, according to state campaign finance records. They have made smaller contributions personally and through their Pegula Sports and Entertainment company to Buffalo-area politicians like Mayor Byron Brown. And since 2017, the company has also given $12,000 to a group called the Committee for Economic Growth, an outfit that is funded largely by Buffalo-area individuals and businesses and focuses on area politicians.

That group, in turn, has contributed $12,500 to now-Gov. Kathy Hochul since 2018, with $10,000 coming in January, when the most recent campaign finance filings were due.

Since then, Hochul hasn’t received any contributions from the Pegulas, Pegula Sports and Entertainment, or the Committee for Economic Growth, according to the Hochul campaign.

The stadium deal has garnered more criticism in certain quarters as its details were pored over. Beyond direct contributions, Hochul’s likely primary challenger Tom Suozzi has been drawing attention to the fact that Hochul’s husband, Bill, is general counsel for Delaware North, which has long operated concessions at the Bills’ Highmark Stadium.

Hochul last year put into writing how she planned to recuse herself from matters involving the company. A new addendum indicated that she cannot take actions “formal or informal” to benefit the company in “any direct, foreseeable and proximate way.” Critics like Suozzi are suggesting the Bills deal runs afoul of such promises.

A spokeswoman for the governor said in a statement this week that Hochul was “committed to the strictest ethical standards” and that “Delaware North is not a party to the negotiations and any future decisions about vendors at the new stadium would be made by the Bills alone.”

Separately, the Seneca Nation has decried Hochul having played hardball with it to get millions in long-sought casino revenues and target the state’s share — more than $400 million — toward the new stadium.

While the politics of the planned deal percolate, many Bills fans and certainly the Bills’ owners appear to be tentatively celebrating.

“We are grateful for the time, efforts and unwavering commitment made by Governor Hochul and her team throughout this process,” the Pegulas said in a Monday statement. “While there are more hurdles to clear before getting to the finish line, we feel our public-private partnership between New York State, Erie County, led by County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and the National Football League will get us there.”

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Blind justice

Credit: CQ ROLL CALL/R. J. Matson

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/nationalcartoons

Final Point

Chip in now!

It’s that time of year again … the end of another fundraising reporting period for congressional campaigns.

Cue the exclamation points.

“The EOQ deadline is today and we only have 18 hours left!” said Suffolk GOP chairman Jesse Garcia in a Thursday email asking for donations for CD1 candidate Nick LaLota.

The missive, subject-lined “We need to keep Zeldin’s Congressional Seat!!!”, added that $9,518 in contributions were needed to hit the campaign’s goal.

That rhetoric of seemingly arbitrary numerical bench marks has become common, an argument to help eke out a few more donations at the buzzer. In this way, the deadline is a helpful sales pitch to boost overall numbers. And then when the filings go public soon after, campaigns can point to their boosted numbers as evidence of momentum and support.

Hence the frenzy, which extends to other forms of campaign communications like Twitter, where CD1 Democratic hopeful Kara Hahn said this on Thursday: “consider chipping in $5 or more to help us hit our end-of-quarter fundraising goal by midnight!”

Sometimes candidates will add in other arguments for why they need the money now: Perhaps, as public relations executive and CD3 Democratic contender Robert Zimmerman tweeted Thursday, this filing deadline was the campaign’s first and thus important for establishing a baseline. Also, for CD3 specifically, there’s the 5-county sweep of the newly redrawn district: “Chip in to help us reach our goal of building a district-wide coalition of support to reach every voter in #NY03.”

The deluge of frantic requests might get annoying for some voters. But from time to time, you do learn something from the pleas, as in a Thursday email from Anthony Figliola, a former Brookhaven Town deputy supervisor.

The email pointed to some of the issues Figliola said he was hearing while knocking on doors, including inflation and school curriculum complaints. The email also serves as evidence that Figliola is running in CD1 despite the party’s support for LaLota.

“As the only America First Conservative in this race,” the email said, “I need your help!”

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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