Looking for good news in Albany legislation is a bit like searching for a wedding ring in a sewer. You have to sort through a lot of smelly stuff to find the gold. So it was with the bill that "saved" many state parks from closing.

First, the gold: The parks bill contained a good new law on recycling electronic waste. And the struggle showed how much New Yorkers love their parks - that knowledge might help in future budget battles.

But keeping the parks open depleted the Environmental Protection Fund. Fed by revenue from a real estate transfer tax, the fund was created to pay for land acquisition in Long Island's pine barrens, among other environmental uses. But the state has too often diverted EPF dollars for nonenvironmental purposes.

This year, Gov. David A. Paterson proposed to take $5 million in state parks operating funds and $5 million in payments in lieu of taxes on state land, move those expenses out of the general budget, and pay them from the EPF. That would have set a bad precedent for continued future draining of the EPF.

Lawmakers got rid of that proposal for what would flow out of the fund, but Paterson got his way by sharply reducing revenue into it, and diverting some of it to parks. While he dropped a planned moratorium on land purchases, which helps the Island, the EPF is smaller - though the parks are far from made whole.

This was budget-making at its worst. In all the grappling for gold, no one came out smelling very nice. hN

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