There has been an ongoing debate during the 126th Assembly District race about who deserves credit for securing funding to help Auburn and Owasco protect its drinking water from harmful algal blooms.
Assemblyman Gary Finch, a Republican, says he played a role in acquiring that state funding. Cayuga County Legislator Keith Batman, his Democratic opponent, disputes that. Batman contends he, along with other local officials, successfully advocated for the money.
To back up his argument, Batman claims that Finch voted against the budget bill that authorized $2 million for the city of Auburn and town of Owasco to install filtration systems and protect drinking water supplies from blue-green algae toxins.
Let's examine the facts.
In January 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his executive budget proposal would include $2 million for Auburn and Owasco. This was in response to harmful algal blooms found on Owasco Lake in late 2016 and the presence of low levels of algae toxins in the municipalities' drinking water supplies.
Throughout the budget process, there wasn't disagreement about whether Auburn and Owasco should get the money. But there was disagreement about how the funding should be allocated. Assembly Democrats thought it should be provided through a state water infrastructure grant program, while Senate Republicans included it in a proposed multi-billion dollar water infrastructure program.
There were more questions about the fate of the funding when state budget talks stalled. In early April, lawmakers decided to pass a state budget extender to fund government through May 31.
On April 3, the state Legislature passed the budget extender. The measure included the $2 million for the city of Auburn and town of Owasco.
Finch, R-Springport, voted no on the budget extender bills.
State budget agreement
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Not long after the budget extender vote, a state budget agreement was reached. When a state budget agreement is finalized, there are several bills that must be approved by the state Legislature. One of the those measures is the capital projects bill.
The capital projects bill contains funding for various state initiatives. In the 2017-18 budget, this legislation included the $2 million for the city of Auburn and town of Owasco.
The relevant section in the capital projects bill reads, "The sum of up to $2,000,000 is hereby appropriated for services and expenses related to upgrades to the City of Auburn and Town of Owasco drinking water treatment systems to effectively remove toxins associated with harmful algal blooms from the finished drinking water."
On April 7, 2017, the state Assembly passed the capital projects bill by a 111-25 vote. Finch voted against the budget bill.
In a mailing sent to voters in the 126th district this year, Finch touted his work "fighting for safe, clean water."
"Gary delivered new investments to fight algal blooms and new filtration upgrades to protect our drinking water supply."
The mailer cites A3007B, which is a health and mental hygiene budget bill. The measure included the creation of a drinking water quality council and would provide for the implementation of the Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017, a $2.5 billion state effort to support water infrastructure projects.
Finch supported this budget bill, Assembly records show. He was one of 133 members who voted for the measure.
Finch voted against the budget extender and the 2017-18 capital projects budget bill that contained the $2 million for Auburn and Owasco. In his mailer, he appears to take credit for the $2 million by saying he "delivered new investments to fight algal blooms and new filtration upgrades."
The budget legislation he supported does include $2.5 billion for water infrastructure and established the drinking water quality council. But the funding for Auburn and Owasco didn't come from that pot of money.