Vote unlocks state park gates: John Boyd Thacher Park among Capital Region areas reopened by funding bill [Times Union, Albany, N.Y.]
(Times Union (Albany, NY) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 29--ALBANY -- State parks chained shut due to lack of funds will be alive again with the sound of happy picnickers, campers and hikers this Memorial Day weekend after the Legislature approved funding to open the sites in an 11th- hour move.
When John Kilroy, president of the advocacy group Friends of Thacher Park, drove past the park in New Scotland Friday afternoon, he was happy to see grass had been mowed and gates unlocked. "I am absolutely thrilled," he said.
Since proposals to close the parks become public in mid-February, Kilroy has fielded "countless" letters and e-mails urging the park and its popular Indian Ladder Trail be saved. "This is a victory for the people of the state," he said. "They buried the Legislature and the governor's office with correspondence."
The legislative action means that parks including John Boyd Thacher and Schodack Island in Albany and Rensselaer counties will be open today. Some facilities including campgrounds will be open as soon as workers can make sure they meet health and safety standards such as for their water systems.
In a decision that was down to the wire and loaded with rhetorical debate even by the Legislature's standards, the Senate voted Friday along party lines 32-27 for a measure funding the immediate opening of 55 state parks and historic sites that were closed earlier in the month due to budget shortfalls.
The plan, which upholds Gov. David Paterson's cuts to the state's Environmental Protection fund while creating a new recycling program along with $4 million in new fees and fines, had passed in the Assembly early Friday.
The Senate party-line vote, with all 32 Democrats voting for the measure and all 27 Republicans present opposing it, gave both sides something to alternately crow about and to use as ammunition in this election year.
Democrats who voted yes, described the measure as a "parks opening bill," and congratulated themselves on riding to the rescue of millions of New Yorkers who rely on parks for their recreation.
Republicans said their "no" votes represented a stand against higher fees and taxes, which Democrats have said they would resist.
"This is not a parks opening bill. This is a business closing bill," said Sen. James Alesi, R-East Rochester.
"How do they think you pay for state parks?" asked Sen. Eric Schneiderman, D-Manhattan, who voted "yes" after traveling from downstate to help fill out the 32 votes needed for passage.
The opposition emerged in part when the state Business Council conducted an analysis showing how some major manufacturers would have to pay higher waste disposal fees because of the legislation..
"What happened to "no new taxes?" asked Kenneth Pokalsky, senior director of government affairs for the state Business Council, which calculated that some firms could be hit with $400,000 increases.
Many of the manufacturers were in Republican-dominated upstate areas. According to the Business Council, Momentive Performance Materials, a Waterford silicone maker; the SI chemical firm based in Niskayuna; as well as Rochester's Eastman Kodak; and IBM in Fishkill would be hit hard as well as Alcoa Aluminum in northern New York.
Democrats noted the measure also lowers waste disposal fees for more than 300 smaller firms. It also places an $800,000 annual fee cap for the largest companies, which number about 70.
The parks battle began earlier in the month when Paterson, citing a cash shortage, ordered more than 50 parks and historic sites statewide closed.
Saying that lawmakers had failed to find the final $6 million of $11.2 million needed to open the parks, Paterson offered legislation on Monday that did that.
The trouble was, it came at the expense of the state's Environmental Protection Fund, which pays for initiatives such as open space acquisitions, landfill closures and even several aquariums.
The $143 million EPF that Paterson put forward was far less than the $168 million and $222 million sought by the Assembly and Senate.
By Thursday, though, lawmakers -- facing the prospect of continued park closures -- accepted an even smaller EPF at $134 million, and were set to approve the plan. The reduction in EPF represented in part, removal of funds for the parks.
Of the $4 million in new revenue projections, the plan calls for $1 million in registration fees by electronics makers for a new recycling program, $1 million in stiffer fines for violations of environmental law and the $2 million in higher waste disposal fees.
Reach Rick Karlin at 454-5758 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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