Paterson Has a Plan to Keep State Parks Open, For Now

Monday, May 24, 2010  |  Updated 10:30 AM EDT
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Riverbank State Park would get a reprieve under the new plan.

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New York may yet keep all its parks and historic sites open and fully staffed this difficult fiscal year including the Memorial Day holiday next week, according to senior officials in the Paterson administration.

     Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari said Sunday that he expects his chamber will approve Paterson's proposal. Senate
 
Democratic leader John Sampson said he needs to review details of the bill, but funding the parks before the budget is settled is a win for New Yorkers.
    
Gov. David Paterson on Monday will send a bill to the Legislature that would keep all New York parks and historic sites open through next March under the usual hours, services, parking, and other facilities, according to the senior staff who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the bill wasn't yet final or introduced.
    
But the Legislature would have to agree to cut $6 million from the Environmental Protection Fund. Many legislators try to protect the fund and the environmental and public health programs it funds.
 
The fund has been raided several times in recent years to bolster the general fund.
    
"The days of wine and roses are over," one of the top officials said, quoting former Gov. Hugh Carey during the fiscal
 crisis in the 1970s. "These are the days of bread and water."
    
Democratic and Republican lawmakers in stalled budget talks as recently as Saturday in the governor's mansion said a top priority for them was to keep the parks and sites open. Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat, proposed the parks funding in last week's public leaders meeting on the budget and Canestrari, an Albany County Democrat, has repeatedly pushed to keep the parks open.
    
"It's great," Canestrari said in an interview. "He's listening to the public, which has been outraged over the park
closing. I give him credit for acknowledging it."
    
He said lawmakers would prefer to fully protect the fund, too.
 
"But these are difficult times."

He said funding is needed for parks and historic sites not just to remain open, but to continue critical maintenance.
    
To reduce that "is a risky proposition we don't want to gamble with," Canestrari said.
    
Sampson said it's important to keep the parks open, although "we have some concerns about how this problem is being resolved."
    
Paterson had agreed to keep the parks open if the Legislature agreed to cuts elsewhere to fund it because the state faces a $9.2 billion deficit. But there has been no agreement on the budget, which was due April 1.

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