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Environmentalists urge Englebright to get behind bond act

Assemb. Steve Englebright at Stony Brook University on

Assemb. Steve Englebright at Stony Brook University on April 11, 2018. Credit: Randee Daddona

Daily Point

Some advocates don't want to wait on an environmental bond act vote

As state budget talks heat up, some environmentalists are making a push for the resurrection of the $3 billion environmental bond act that was approved in last year’s budget. The proposal was to be put before voters last November but it was postponed in August by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo due to pandemic-related financial uncertainty.

The pandemic is still with us, but easing as vaccinations proceed, and advocates say the timing is right to get the bond act on this November’s ballot.

"There’s no evidence to show the public is squeamish about making these investments at this time," Jessica Ottney Mahar told The Point. Ottney Mahar, The Nature Conservancy’s New York policy and strategy director, cited both polling TNC has done around the state on the issue and the results of environmental bond measures and other environmental votes around the country during the pandemic.

The advocacy comes as Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chairman of the chamber’s environmental conservation committee, has expressed hesitancy about pushing forward now because of worries that the bond might fail in the fall amid continued uncertainty. He said a decision on whether to proceed should wait until later in the spring. The State Senate included the measure in its one-house budget but the Assembly did not.

Ottney Mahar said that when TNC polled on the bond act last June, 74% of New Yorkers – and 67% of Long Islanders – supported the measure. Similar numbers backed the idea of structuring the state’s economic recovery around environmental issues like climate change and the jobs that would be created – as many as 65,000 per one estimate – by spending from the bond. The organization intends to poll the bond act again this year, she said.

Nationally, Ottney Mahar pointed to 11 local environmental bond measures in places like California, Texas, Connecticut and Maryland that voters approved in 2020 by majorities of 60% to 90%. In upstate New Paltz, a local referendum to fund open space and farmland protection with a real estate transfer fee easily passed with 74% of the vote. Earlier this month, a statewide $74 million environmental bond in Rhode Island passed with 78% support.

"There’s no evidence that causes us that kind of concern," Ottney Mahar said, referring to Englebright’s position. "We hope he’ll reconsider on the timing and that he’ll support doing it in the budget."

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

Talking Point

An update from Chuck Lavine on Gov. Cuomo's impeachment investigation

The Point checked in with Chuck Lavine, the Glen Cove Democrat who is chair of the State Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, for the latest on the impeachment investigation of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

It was a sort of Brooklyn twist of fate that brought the Long Islander and longtime attorney to this role: Lavine had previously chaired the Election Law Committee, but Joe Lentol’s surprise loss to Emily Gallagher in the Democratic primary last year left a leadership opening at the powerful Codes Committee, which Bronx Assemb. Jeffrey Dinowitz assumed. Lavine then stepped up to Judiciary.

About the selection of law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP to do the investigation, Lavine said "many law firms were vetted" and others were discarded due to relationships with or political donations to the governor, a big concern. Early criticism of Davis Polk & Wardwell for Cuomo-world connections to former partner Dennis Glazer have faded, and legal ethicists told The New York Law Journal the old connection wasn’t a conflict.

Lavine says he has Zoomed and spoken by phone with the legal team and "they have made the necessary inquiries that any competent lawyer/investigator would make within hours of being retained." There isn’t a timeline for the investigation but Lavine said, "My sense and my hope is that we will have covered a considerable amount of territory within a couple of months."

He said he doesn’t want witnesses — some of whom are making sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo — to be subjected to multiple interviews because of the overlapping Attorney General’s investigation: "This is not the Spanish Inquisition."

One open question: the possibility and timing of public hearings.

Lavine said he’d spoken to Dan Goldman, who served as counsel to the House Intelligence Committee, and Jerry Nadler, House Judiciary Committee chair, on the subject of hearings and what should be done publicly and privately. Both men were involved in President Donald Trump’s impeachment in 2019 and had to grapple with some of the same issues. "I'm trying to get a better sense of what should remain private," Lavine said. "I don't want any witness embarrassed by her or his testimony, or any potential informant burned with public testimony."

It’s possible hearings could take place after the investigation is complete and the outside lawyers’ report is filed. If there’s a recommendation from his committee to impeach, Lavine said, "The body as a whole may want to hear from some witnesses."

As with much else in this process with little precedent, "We're still crafting a system to be implemented."

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Shots fired

I drew too many responses to the heart-wrenching Boulder grocery store massacre, several of which appeared in print in Newsday this week. This was one that didn’t make it in, but still a page from my sketchbook worth sharing with Point readers. —Matt Davies @MatttDavies

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

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