New York voters will decide whether the state will borrow billions of dollars to bolster the state’s environmental infrastructure by funding projects meant to improve the quality of its land, air and water.
The $4.2 billion bond act is the only statewide proposal on the ballot this year and comes 26 years after the last time New Yorkers approved a similar environmental-improvement plan.
The proposal is years in the making: A similar proposal fell by the wayside in 2020, when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo pulled it from the ballot amid the uncertainty over the COVID-19 crisis.
But now, supporters — including environmental groups and Gov. Kathy Hochul — say the time is right to ask voters to approve the measure. Opponents, meanwhile, have raised concern about the costs.
Here’s what you need to know about Proposal 1 that appears on the back of your ballot:
What is the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022?
It’s a proposal to borrow up to $4.2 billion to pay for projects meant to improve the state’s environment, in hopes of preserving or bolstering natural resources and mitigating climate change.
If approved, the state would sell bonds covering the full amount and pay them back over several decades. From there, that money would be used on capital projects — big-ticket, long-term projects meant to boost the state’s environmental infrastructure.
The state Legislature already approved the plan, which allows the state to sell the bonds immediately after approval. But in order to sell the bonds, the state has to get approval from voters. That’s why you’re being asked to vote on it.
What kinds of projects are we talking about?
There’s not a specific list of projects right now; that will come later in the process and would be subject to the state’s processes for capital building or repairs.
But if the plan is approved, the money would be split up for specific purposes, according to the plan passed by Hochul and the state Legislature. They are:
- Climate change mitigation: Up to $1.5 billion, including at least $400 million for green building projects, $100 million for climate adaptation and mitigation projects, $200 million for cleaning air and water pollution in disadvantaged communities, and $500 million to purchase zero-emissions school buses.
- Restoration and flood-risk reduction: At least $1.1 billion, of which at least $100 million has to go to “coastal rehabilitation and shoreline restoration projects, and projects that address inland flooding.”
- Open-space land conservation and recreation: Up to $650 million, of which at least $300 million is flagged for land conservation, $150 million for preserving farmland, and up to $75 million for fish hatcheries.
- Water quality improvement and resiliency infrastructure: At least $650 million, including at least $200 million for wastewater infrastructure, $250 million for municipal stormwater improvements and up to $200 million for a variety of other water-related projects such as replacing lead service lines.
So the money could go toward things such as improvements to a water treatment plant, or projects that improve the water quality in the Hudson River. It could be used to bolster flood protections along New York City’s waterfront. It could be used to preserve land in the Catskills or Adirondacks.
There are endless options, but any projects would have to comply with the implementation plan Hochul and state lawmakers set into law. The projects will also have to be approved through the state’s existing process for allocating capital spending.
Who is supporting Proposal 1, and why?
There’s a broad coalition of environmental and labor organizations backing the proposal, including Environmental Advocates of New York, the American Lung Association and the New York State Laborers Organizing Fund. Collectively, they’re putting about $4 million into their efforts to get it passed.
They’re coalescing behind a slogan — “Vote Yes for Clean Water and Jobs” — and making the case that the bond act is a critical, once-in-a-generation opportunity to make badly needed environmental infrastructure improvements.
On Thursday, the groups held a rally along the Hudson River in Albany.
“Right now, we have one of the most aging sewer infrastructure systems, and this proposition will not only give us a chance to make a deposit on reversing that, but also create the jobs that are necessary and sustainable,” said Aaron Mair, director of the Adirondack Council’s Forever Adirondacks campaign.
Who is opposing Proposal 1, and why?
While there hasn’t been much by way of organized opposition, some on the conservative end of the political spectrum are opposed.
Most notably, that includes the state Conservative Party, the small-but-influential third party that often co-endorses Republican candidates.
Gerard Kassar, the party’s chair, says its opposition is largely grounded in fiscal conservatism, though he said the party is “certainly not fond” of all of the things the bond act could fund. He says it’s a bad time for the state to be borrowing money, particularly when inflation is high and interest rates are up.
“We are opposed to it because it's $4.2 billion in new debt,” Kassar said in an interview. “We are additionally opposed to it because there is money remaining from projects that were authorized but never conducted or completed from earlier environmental-oriented bond acts, so that money remains to be used first.”
What will I see on my ballot? And where will I see it?
In the vast majority of the state, Proposal 1 will be on the back of your ballot, ahead of any local ballot proposals — including three in New York City. (Nassau County voters can expect to see the proposal on the front of the ballot.)
Here’s what it will look like, word for word:
“To address and combat the impact of climate change and damage to the environment, the ‘Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022’ authorizes the sale of state bonds up to four billion two hundred million dollars to fund environmental protection, natural restoration, resiliency, and clean energy projects. Shall the Environmental Bond Act of 2022 be approved?”
Will people actually flip their ballots?
Recent election data suggests that most will, but a still-significant number of voters won’t.
Take last year, when there were five statewide ballot proposals in New York. Of the 3.4 million people who cast a ballot, about 456,000 people didn’t cast a vote on Proposal 1, which would have made changes to the state’s redistricting process, according to state Board of Elections records. That means 13% of voters didn’t cast a vote on any of the ballot proposals — despite making the effort to head to the polls or vote absentee.
Jessica Ottney Mahar is the policy and strategy director for The Nature Conservancy. She’s helping lead the campaign in favor of Proposal 1.
A big part of their effort, she said, is “incessantly reminding” people to flip their ballot.
“It's a lot of education and reminding folks that the election isn't just about those top couple of races that make the news all the time,” she said.