The Cuomo administration has quietly resolved a problem created by a single line in the state’s budget that would have held up $20 million in federal aid to the state’s Conservation Fund.
The administration was able to secure the funding without an amendment to the state budget that had originally been requested by the federal government.
The offending sentence was discovered in late June, when Conservation Fund leaders and members of the New York Audubon Society learned that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service planned to block tens of millions of dollars in grants funding over a provision in the state’s budget that would have allowed the executive branch to move money out of the Conservation Fund.
The sentence was added into the budget during late night budget negotiations in March, said Audubon Society spokesman Sean Mahar. A single-sentence revision is all that would have been required to release the money, Mahar said.
“It’s a costly one-sentence line that needs to be added or we lose 20 million dollars,” Mahar said in May. ”This is a huge hit to DEC’s operating budget.”
The federal government wanted the budget language to be amended before it released the money, but the Legislature would have had to amend the budget a day before the end of the legislative session. Such a change would have required the Cuomo administration to issue a message of necessity to get it done on time.
Instead, the administration reached out to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a promise to change the language next year, said Jason Kemper, chairman of the New York State Conservation Fund. In exchange, the USFWS agreed to release the money.
“The Governor’s Office has provided me with documentation that the federal aid issue has been resolved for this fiscal year and that is good news for the sportsmen and women of this state,” Kemper said.
Morris Peters, a spokesman for the Division of the Budget, confirmed in an email that the issue had been resolved. “We received word from USFWS that they will obligate the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson funds that are currently apportioned to New York,” he said.
The Cuomo administration did not respond to requests for comment on what promises, if any, it made to the federal government to get the grant funding reinstated, or why the USFWS reversed its earlier position that it would not release money until the budget language was amended.
The grant funding will pay for 18 permanent staff and 137 seasonal staff positions, as well as studies of moose, bears, coyotes, pine martens and pheasants, among others.
“I am hopeful that a permanent fix to this issue will be addressed during the next budget cycle and legislative session to ensure that the millions we receive in federal aid continues to flow to the Division of NYSDEC Division Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources,” said Kemper, the chairman of the Conservation Fund .
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