STATE'S VOTERS APPROVE ENVIRONMENTAL BOND ACT

SARAH METZGAR Capitol bureau
Section: MAIN,  Page: A9

Date: Wednesday, November 6, 1996

ALBANY -- Voters said ``yes'' Tuesday to Gov. George Pataki's bond act, allowing the state to borrow $1.75 billion for environmental projects.


The bond act, listed as Proposal No. 1 on Tuesday's ballot, passed only because of overwhelming support in New York City. With 84 percent of the state's election districts reporting, 55 percent of the voters -- or 1,627,682 -- pulled the ``yes'' lever. But the voting pattern indicated a marked regional schism. New York City voters overwhelmingly favored the bond act, 77 percent of them voting ``yes.'' The rest of the state opposed the proposition.


In the four-county Capital Region, voters offered a definitive ``no,'' with more than 60 percent rejecting the plan. But upstaters were outnumbered by downstate bond act supporters.


``We had strong support in the Hudson Valley and in the suburbs north of New York City, along with overwhelming support in New York City and overwhelming support on Long Island,'' said Gary Sheffer, a spokesman for the governor's Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act Committee.


With 77 percent of populous New York City voting in favor of the controversial proposal, Sheffer said the margin was ``insurmountable.''


The bond act will allow state officials to borrow $1.75 billion for environmental projects.


The $1.75 billion -- to be paid off with an estimated $1.3 billion in interest over the 42 years -- would be spent in five broad categories:


$790 million to clean and protect rivers, lakes and harbors.


$355 million to improve drinking water, including $265 million to start a revolving loan fund and $90 million in grants for municipalities.


$200 million for municipalities to restore abandoned urban industrial parcels called ``brownfields.''


$230 million for air quality projects.


$175 million to close landfills and invest in recycling centers.


``We couldn't be happier,'' said Larry Shapiro, a senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group. ``The voters of New York state have shown that they are strong supporters of programs that will address environmental health.''


The state's last environmental bond proposal, a $2 billion spending plan, was defeated by voters in 1990, largely because of low voter turnout in New York City and the plan's heavy emphasis on the state's purchase of land.


This year, Pataki took care to craft his plan so it offered benefits for both rural and urban voters. The proposal was embraced warmly not just by environmental groups, but also by the state's most influential business lobbying organization -- the state Business Council.


This year's bond act campaign, costing more than $3 million in television ads, radio ads and mailings, was an ugly one. It spawned allegations and counterallegations. It ruined longstanding political friendships and forged new ones.


Pataki fought hard for the bond act, raising $1 million to promote it. Many political observers said the Republican governor was trying to court Democrats and independents for his re-election in 1998. Analysts predicted that the bond act campaign would improve Pataki's ratings -- whether it passed or failed.


Republican U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato also used the bond act to his advantage, hoping to improve his dismal ratings in polls. D'Amato, using two state political action committees, spent about $1.6 million in controversial television ads, spurring a federal ethics complaint from state Democrats and private criticism from environmentalists who feared he would taint the campaign.


Although the campaign forged a new alliance between the Pataki administration and environmentalists, the bond act had its opponents. And they were vocal.


Old friends of Pataki's -- the wealthy New Yorkers who in 1991 formed the conservative anti-tax group Change-NY -- raised more than $400,000 to air television and radio ads against the bond act.


The Change-NY group claimed the bond would fund pork-barrel projects, and said the state taxpayers couldn't afford to pay the $1.3 billion in interest over the bond's 42-year repayment schedule. Change-NY, in its anti-bond act literature, repeatedly noted that New York has the highest state debt in the nation -- and the second-worst credit rating.


Other major critics included Democratic Majority Leader Michael Bragman, who advocated a pay-as-you-go strategy, and government critic Bob Schulz of Washington County, who claimed the measure was unconstitutional.