Proposition 1, which New York State voters will find on the ballot on Nov. 8, looks to borrow $4.2 billion for an environmental bond act. NewsdayTV’s Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskkevas, Alejandra Villa Loarca; Pond5

ALBANY — Voters in November will decide whether the state should borrow $4.2 billion for capital projects to combat climate change and to protect the environment and public health in what would be the largest environmental protection fund in state history.

Here are some facts to consider when voting on the proposed Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022.

What is a bond act?

A bond act is borrowing from investors who will see a return on their investment with interest. The environmental bond act would be backed by the state’s credit rating and ability to tax, rather than based on revenue such as tolls from a new bridge. Under the state constitution, voters must approve this general-obligation borrowing. This differs from the more common type of state borrowing that avoids a vote because it is done through the state’s public authorities.

How would it be spent?

The act says borrowing would pay for “certain capital projects for the purpose of making environmental improvements to preserve, enhance and restore New York’s natural resources and reduce the impact of climate change.” At least $1.1 billion would be used for restoring flood damage and reducing the risk of flooding; another $650 million would be used to buy and conserve open space and farmland for conservation and recreation; $1.5 billion would be used to address climate change; and $650 million would be used to improve water quality and sewers — including on Long Island. The fund also would pay for “resilient infrastructure” to withstand increasingly violent storms, such as Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and hurricanes Irene and Lee two weeks apart in 2011. Environmental projects will include protecting the habitat of endangered species.

Have there been other environmental bond acts?

Voters have approved 10 environmental bond acts since the early part of the 20th century, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government. “In total, the previous bond acts have obligated nearly $5.7 billion, roughly $30 billion in adjusted 2020 dollars,” according to the institute’s study.

The most recent environmental bond act was approved in 1996. The $1.75 billion in borrowing was pushed by then-Gov. George Pataki, a Republican.

The 2022 bond act that will be on ballots in November is a revised effort. Under former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a $3 billion bond act was proposed for a vote last year, but he delayed that plan because of the state’s fiscal stress from the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, Gov. Kathy Hochul increased the proposed amount of spending and renamed the act.

Are environmental bond acts popular?

Only one of the state’s 11 environmental bond acts — in 1990 — has been rejected by voters, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government. The others passed with comfortable margins.

What is the argument for the bond act?

The wide array of supporters say the massive spending is needed to contend with global warming and other public health threats. The bond act would build and improve sanitary and storm sewers to protect drinking water sources while girding shorelines and communities for more hurricanes and flooding.

Supporters say the need for the large capital projects exceeds what could be funded in annual state budgets. A nonprofit, Environmental Advocates NY, called the bond act “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect clean water, update infrastructure, build parks, and improve the quality of life in every county of the state.”

An infrastructure consulting company, AECOM, found in its study that the bond act would create up to 84,000 direct and indirect jobs, or 9,400 full- and part-time jobs per $1 billion spent. The bond act would devote 35% of its funding for environmental justice in “disadvantaged communities.” Those are often inner-city neighborhoods that once had been forced to accept garbage incinerators and other projects that forced more pollution on lower-income areas.

What is the argument against the bond act?

Fiscal conservatives have argued that bond acts add to the state’s overspending and overborrowing, which has made some parts of the state, including Long Island, among the highest-taxed areas in the nation. But even fiscal conservatives support the idea of putting major debt proposals to a public vote. The independent Citizens Budget Commission makes no recommendation to voters on the bond act. But the government watchdog group said that while the need for the funding is clear, the state should make public a needs assessment for the projects and monitor the progress going forward to make sure the money is spent effectively.

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