Albany, N.Y., January 28—State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats), a member of the Senate Finance Committee and Chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, today joined many of his Senate and Assembly colleagues on the Legislature’s fiscal committees at a joint, public hearing to examine Governor Andrew Cuomo’s state budget proposals for environmental conservation, agriculture and energy.
Today’s hearing in the Legislative Office Building continued a series of public reviews of Cuomo’s budget plan being conducted by the members of the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. The hearings will continue weekly until early February and can be viewed online through O’Mara’s Senate website.
At today’s budget hearing, O’Mara took the opportunity to question state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos on numerous issues including the importance of an ongoing, strong state commitment to air and water quality, land management and conservation, the Environmental Protection Fund, and invasive species eradication – all of which O’Mara stressed as critically important to local communities, local economies and local property taxpayers.
Most prominently, O’Mara continued to raise concerns over DEC staffing levels and the impact on the agency’s decision-making processes, which O’Mara criticized as being too slow and drawn out on many critical issues and projects.
“We heard at today’s hearing the range and the complexity of the challenges facing New York State,” said O’Mara. “So we appreciated this chance to directly question and to receive input from Acting Commissioner Seggos and other top officials, as well as many advocates and stakeholders. Now I look forward to working with my legislative colleagues and the governor to try to ensure that the new state budget addresses the state’s environmental concerns adequately, effectively and fairly. These challenges and issues confronting New York are vital to the overall environmental and economic well-being of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and the state as a whole. In particular, I remain deeply concerned about the DEC’s decision making process that too often in recent years has appeared to be unnecessarily and unfairly drawn out and delayed, which is bad for industry and business in how long these things get dragged out, and it’s bad for the communities.”
In addition to Seggos, legislators are also hearing testimony from New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey; New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball; New York State Public Service Commission Chair Audrey Zibelman; and John B. Rhodes, president & CEO, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Additionally, legislators were scheduled to hear from numerous advocacy organizations including the New York Farm Bureau; American Farmland Trust; The Nature Conservancy; Audubon New York; Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Environmental Advocates of New York; New York League of Conservation Voters; Parks and Trails New York; New York State Conservation Council; and the Sierra Club.
One of the Senate’s key committee assignments, O’Mara has said that as Chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee he hopes to continue the committee’s focus on numerous regional and statewide challenges including: soil and water conservation and quality; energy-related demands including the development and promotion of cleaner sources of energy; open space and preservation initiatives impacting farmland, forests and other state resources; brownfields cleanup; solid and hazardous waste management; invasive and endangered species; and fish and wildlife.
O’Mara said that he will remain committed to working with his legislative colleagues and the governor to strike a reasonable, sensible balance between conservation and protection, and the need to spark and strengthen economic growth and private-sector job creation regionally and statewide.
Following Seggos’ testimony, O’Mara later questioned state Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball on the details of the governor’s proposed budget for the Department of Agriculture and Markets.
Citing growth in the state’s wine, craft beer and spirits industries over the past the few years, both throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions and statewide, and how tax and regulatory reforms at the state level have helped spark that growth, O’Mara encouraged the Cuomo administration to look at the effectiveness and success of tax and regulatory reform and extend it to other sectors of the agricultural industry and industries generally.
“Cutting red tape, reducing regulations, eliminating and streamlining state rules and cutting taxes have sparked incredible growth in the wine, craft beer and spirits industries,” said O’Mara, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Let’s take that approach to job growth and apply it to other industries across the board.”
O’Mara also noted that the Cuomo plan calls for cutting or eliminating funding for a number of key local programs and institutions, including the Wine and Grape Foundation, Future Farmers of America, Tractor Rollover Prevention, Farm Net (Farm Family Assistance), Integrated Pest Management, and the Cornell Diagnostic Lab along with other vital Cornell programs invaluable to the dairy industry as well as honeybee, maple, and apple research, among others.
“I will be fighting to restore state funding for our critical agricultural programs. In the important weeks ahead it’s now up to the Legislature, in these and other ways, to closely examine the governor’s plans for agriculture and rural New York to determine and reestablish some of these choices and priorities,” said O’Mara.