DEC chief warns of cuts if federal gov doesn’t step in

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos speaks in Saranac Lake’s Riverside Park Sept. 24. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

SARANAC LAKE — New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos warned of cuts to state departments, such as his, if the federal government doesn’t come through with aid for states in its next coronavirus relief package.

Pressed on what, specifically, the DEC could face in terms of cuts — whether that be staff cuts or cuts to services — Seggos didn’t provide specifics but reiterated that federal assistance is critical.

“We’ve been able to sustain our core mission this year, but we’ve had to get very creative at that,” he told the Enterprise last week.

The state is projecting a budget deficit of $14 billion through the end of the fiscal year, a deficit that is expected to grow in the next few years. A variety of options to address that deficit are being discussed in the state Legislature, including a Democratic proposal to raise taxes on this state’s millionaires and billionaires, a proposal to reinstate the state’s stock transfer tax, and a proposal to tax the unrealized capital gains — or the appreciation of assets not yet sold — of the state’s billionaires, according to the New York Times. Republicans have been hesitant to support tax increases, with some members saying that they believed increasing taxes on the state’s wealthy residents could push them to move to other states with lower taxes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who told the Times this month that the Legislature’s tax proposals wouldn’t come close to bridging the state’s budget shortfall, has called on Congress to provide New York state with $59 billion in aid to address the budget shortfalls that his office says will “impact the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of workers in the state.”

The state was already facing a $6 billion budget gap early this year, before this year’s $177 billion state budget was passed in April. The balanced budget hinged upon the state borrowing billions of dollars, receiving federal coronavirus aid, and making significant cuts if tax revenues fell below projections, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

The state has already implemented a hiring freeze and cut down on spending, Seggos told the Enterprise last week. Without federal aid, the state could face large cuts that would trickle down to local school districts, health care and local governments.

State agencies such as the DEC and the Department of Transportation could also face cuts, Seggos said.

“No doubt about it, COVID is major,” he said. “It has destroyed our economy. We have to rebuild, and we need the federal government to help lead that recovery. Once it does, I think we’ll come out of this stronger because we’ll know in fact that science matters, that we need to trust our experts. And we know that government matters. The DEC was not created for sunny days. We were created for solving problems on the worst days. We can’t do that unless the federal government is doing its share of supporting states.

“These are numbers that none of us could have every prepared for,” Seggos added. “We can’t survive as a state, with all the important things that we have to do and need to do, without the federal government stepping in.”


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