The Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways & Means Committee began their review of the 2015-16 Executive Budget this week. The hearing originally scheduled for last Tuesday (Local Government Officials/General Government) was postponed due to inclement weather.  That hearing will be held on Feb. 25.

Read the Assembly’s staff analysis of the Executive Budget proposal, and the Senate’s staff analysis.

Environmental Conservation

Among the witnesses at this hearing were Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens, Rose Harvey, Commissioner of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, and Richard Ball, Commissioner of Agriculture & Markets.

Among the topics discussed at the hearing were reforms of the state’s brownfield clean-up proposal, the state’s water and sewer infrastructure needs, DEC staffing levels, and funding for the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

Extending the state’s very successful Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP) is a high priority for Unshackle Upstate in 2015.  As our friends at the Buffalo Niagara Partnership note, the BCP has played a role in the creation of more than 4,200 jobs and millions of dollars in development in Western New York alone. Job creation, cleaner communities and bringing unusable land back onto the tax rolls.  What’s not to like about that?

Transportation

Former state budget director Robert Megna testified in his new position, as Thruway Authority Executive Director.  He said that it is not clear how much of the $1.3 billion that the Governor has proposed providing to the Thruway Authority will be used to pay for the $3.9 billion Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.  He said it is likely to be the “vast majority,” while the rest of the funds will pay for some of the Thruway’s other capital costs.  He said that in order to avoid a toll increase, the Thruway Authority will have to find “savings” in its $1.7 billion annual budget.

Megna also testified that the Thruway Authority is looking at other cost-saving measures, including a possible merger with the state’s Bridge Authority, which operates five bridges across the Hudson River between Catskill and Bear Mountain, or with the state Department of Transportation.

We’ve been very outspoken about the need to ensure that Upstate Thruway drivers do not are not pay higher tolls to pay for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement.  We’re looking to legislators to ensure that