A big thumbs up to the state’s decision to give its Farmland Protection Program a $35 million boost, bringing the program’s budget up to $177 million for 2015-16. Like repairs to roads, bridges and other infrastructure, preserving farms is a sound investment — and much less speculative than pricey economic development “pet” projects. The farmland program, which was understandably slashed in half during the recession in 2008, is now back to full health and monies will continue to be available for towns to use to protect farms. Although most of the money will go upstate, it’s in the interest of agricultural communities statewide to remain healthy, forward-thinking and, most of all, intact for generations down the road.
Considering the variety of environmental issues covered in the $142 billion state budget — which extend far beyond what we can address here — we have thumbs heading in different directions as they relate to the local issues we have covered. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see the state provide $200,000 in funding for the Peconic Estuary Program. As one of about two dozen estuaries of national significance, the waterway clearly has a local importance that extends far beyond the coastline. Peconic Bay and its river regularly lure visitors from the rest of Long Island and New England, and funding a single entity charged with overseeing its long-term health will reap long-term rewards for the region.
On the other hand, $5 million to develop a Nitrogen Mitigation Plan is far too much money to study something that those in the environmental community have for years acknowledged as a known danger. While the attention to such a serious issue is a welcome sign, isn’t there a more affordable way to actually begin fixing the nitrogen problem sometime soon rather than undertake more studies? As the saying goes, “If you don’t want to do something, study it.” That clearly seems to be the case here. Not to mention that the plan is far too costly.
There’s little to debate about whether or not education reforms should be made in Albany: Change is a good thing, and improving education — arguably state government’s biggest responsibility — is a noble goal. But rushing change in education, tying it to completely unrelated topics such as ethics reform and passing it off as progress is unfair to taxpayers, teachers and students.
Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to discern whether the state teacher’s union is honestly more concerned about the well being of students or about protecting its own interests. Either way, the extent of opposition to the reforms makes it clear that more time to discuss them publicly would have been prudent.
Local superintendents are nearly unanimous in raising serious questions about the positive impact a new teacher evaluation system will have on teachers and students alike. As happens far too often in politics, expediency in this case seems to have taken priority over efficiency and, quite simply, doing the right thing. Thumbs down.