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 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 “common-sense 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.