Anti-hunger ad­vo­cates slam Cuomo’s farm-to-food-bank veto

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By David Klep­per

Anti-hunger ad­vo­cates and agri­cul­ture groups are crit­i­ciz­ing Gov. An­drew Cuomo’s op­po­si­tion to leg­is­la­tion that would give farm­ers a tax break for do­nat­ing sur­plus fruits, veg­eta­bles and other lo­cally grown prod­ucts to food banks to ad­dress New York state’s grow­ing hunger prob­lem.

The Demo­cratic gov­er­nor ve­toed the bill this week, the sec­ond time in two years the mea­sure has passed the Leg­is­la­ture only to be blocked by Cuomo. This year, the leg­is­la­tion passed the Assem­bly and Se­nate unan­i­mously.

“Gov. Cuomo has let down the 2.7 mil­lion New York­ers who rely on emer­gency food pro­grams to feed them­selves and their fam­i­lies and those of us work­ing on the front lines of hunger,” said Su­san Zimet, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Hunger Ac­tion Net­work of New York State, one of 144 anti-hunger groups, en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions and agri­cul­tural as­so­ci­a­tions that backed the credit.

Farm­ers last year do­nated 12 mil­lion pounds of food in New York. Sup­port­ers ar­gue that num­ber could go up dra­mat­i­cally if the state gives a credit to farm­ers to off­set the cost of har­vest­ing and trans­port­ing sur­plus crops that oth­er­wise might go to waste. The credit would be capped at $5,000 an­nu­ally.

Cuomo said Wed­nes­day that he sup­ports the idea be­hind the leg­is­la­tion but that law­mak­ers failed to in­clude it in state bud­get de­lib­er­a­tions.

“We need to know where the money comes from,” he told re­porters. “I will sup­port it — but it has to be in the bud­get.”

Sev­eral states have cre­ated sim­i­lar tax cred­its, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado and Ore­gon. Zimet and other anti-hunger ad­vo­cates say they’re un­aware of any of those tax credit pro­grams fac­ing op­po­si­tion from a gov­er­nor.

Sup­port­ers don’t ac­cept Cuomo’s ar­gu­ment of fis­cal restraint, not­ing that the tax credit wouldn’t cost the state more than $800,000 each year — a tiny frac­tion of the $156 bil­lion state bud­get.

“His jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for ve­to­ing this bill re­mains baf­fling,” said Dean Nor­ton, pres­i­dent of the New York Farm Bu­reau. Nor­ton said Cuomo could re­solve what­ever con­cerns he has with the tax credit by in­sert­ing in his own pro­posed state bud­get.

Zimet. a for­mer town of New Paltz su­per­vi­sor and a for­mer Ul­ster County leg­is­la­tor, isn’t will­ing to wait. She called on law­mak­ers to re­turn to Al­bany in De­cem­ber to over­ride Cuomo’s veto. Some law­mak­ers have broached the idea of a spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­fore year’s end to con­sider other is­sues, in­clud­ing a pos­si­ble leg­isla­tive pay hike.

Sen. Rich Funke, a spon­sor of the mea­sure, said he was dis­ap­pointed that Cuomo had ve­toed what Funke called a “com­mon­sense so­lu­tion” that had such wide sup­port but ap­peared to dis­miss the idea of a veto over­ride still this year.

“We’ll try again next year,” he said.

The 53 food pantries in the Al­bany area pro­vided 2.6 mil­lion meals in 2014 — the high­est de­mand in 36 years of record keep­ing. The num­ber of peo­ple served by a food bank or­ga­ni­za­tion in Pough­keep­sie went up by 40 per­cent from 2012-2013, us­ing the lat­est data avail­able.

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