On April 3, 2020, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed budget legislation for fiscal year 2020-2021, which included a provision for a $3 billion bond issue that voters will decide on November 3, 2020. Gov. Cuomo proposed the bond issue during his State of the State Address on January 8, 2020. The legislation for the ballot measure referred to the bond issue as the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act and the Environmental Bond Act of 2020.
The ballot measure would issue $3.00 billion in general obligation bonds for projects related to the environment, natural resources, and climate change, according to the bond legislation. Revenue from the bond issue would be distributed as follows:
- at least $1.00 billion for flood risk reduction, coastal rehabilitation, shoreline restoration, and ecological restoration projects;
- at least $700.00 million for projects designed to mitigate the impacts of climate change, such as those related to green buildings (as defined in the bill), carbon sequestration, urban forest and habitat restoration, reducing the urban heat island effect, reducing and eliminating air pollution, reducing and eliminate water pollution;
- at least $550.00 million for land conservation and recreation plans, programs, and projects and fish hatcheries; and
- at least $550.00 million for projects related to wastewater, sewage, and septic infrastructure, lead service line replacement, riparian buffers, stormwater runoff reduction, agricultural nutrient runoff reduction, and addressing harmful algal blooms.
The ballot measure would require that the department make every effort practicable to ensure that 35 percent of the bond revenue is used to benefit environmental justice communities (EJCs). The ballot measure would define EJCs as “minority or low-income [communities] that may bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal programs and policies.”
Legislators did not vote on the bond issue independent of the budget legislation, which was composed of 78 different provisions. On April 1, 2020, the budget bill passed the New York State Senate in a vote of 39 to 22. On April 2, 2020, the legislation passed the New York State Assembly in a vote of 81 to 60. In the Senate, Republicans and one Democrat opposed the budget bill. In the Assembly, Republicans and 20 Democrats opposed the budget bill.
The bond issue is likely the only ballot measure that will appear on the New York ballot in 2020. Five constitutional amendments passed during the 2019-2020 legislative session, but those cannot appear on the ballot before 2021.
The last time that New York voters decided a bond issue related to the environment was 1996, when a $2.4 billion bond issue was approved. In 1990, voters rejected a $1.975 billion bond issue for environment-related projects. Since 1990, statewide ballots featured seven bond issues. Voters approved three (43 percent) of the bond issues. Voters rejected four (57 percent) of the bond issues.