New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), a 15 year member of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, this week blasted Governor Paterson’s State proposal to (1) completely eliminate state funding for land acquisition and (2) cut by more than half the funding for farmland protection in the 2010 State Budget. Last year, the State Legislature approved $60 million for land acquisitions. This year the amount is zero. In the category of Farmland Protection, the Governor proposes reducing funding from $23 million to $10.5 million.
Thiele stated, “This is an extremely difficult budget year and all programs…even worthy ones…are subject to reductions. However, budget cuts must be fair and reflect our priorities. The Governor’s proposal does neither. The State Environmental Protection Fund has already been subjected to numerous sweeps and reductions beyond what many programs have endured. However, to completely eliminate funding for land preservation is both unfair, bad policy and legally risky.
In particular, Thiele cited the potential legal exposure the elimination of funds creates for the Pine Barrens Protection Program. Thiele explained, “The State of New York has created a 50,000 acre preserve in the Central Pine Barrens where no development is allowed. About 90% of the land has already been protected. The State has devised a nationally recognized program which includes land acquisition, transfers of development rights (TDRs), a clearinghouse and bank for TDRs, and a waiver process to insure its federal constitutionality against claims of inverse condemnation and taking of property without just compensation. By eliminating funding for acquisition before the preserve is completed, the Governor would expose the State to constitutional claims for damages by private property owners in the preserve. This would undermine 15 years of hard work by the State Pine Barrens Commission. It is not just bad policy but dangerous law.”
Thiele also criticized the cut to Farmland Protection. “Not only does this cut hurt our open space goals, it would be devastating to our agriculture industry at a time when farmers could desperately use the capital generated for farm operations created through the sale of development rights.”
Thiele has joined Assemblyman Bob Sweeney (D-Suffolk), the Chairman of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, in a letter to the Assembly Speaker calling for the restoration of these environmental funds.