When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced $8 billion in state funding for the MTA’s capital plan a few months ago, the proclamation came with absolutely no details, and a follow-up agreement between the city and state to end their feud and fund the capital plan similarly contained no details. We had no idea how the state would generate the $8 billion in new funding Cuomo had pledged to the MTA, and in the intervening months, no additional details have emerged.
Will the money come from congestion pricing? (Unlikely.) Dedicated revenue sources? (I wouldn’t count on it.) Bonding? (Probably.) Either way, without tying the money into a source, Cuomo seemed to be promising a lot of dollars for downstate interests, and that, despite the economic realities of New York State, did not sit well with everyone else. Now the upstaters want their share. Is it a fair share or is just a money grab?
Here’s the story from Binghamton’s Press & Sun Bulletin:
New York will pay $8 billion over the next five years to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but upstate should have its own funding stream to fix roads and bridges, leaders testified Thursday.
Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and county leaders urged lawmakers to create a similar fund that would put the rest of the state on par with the downstate region for infrastructure upgrades. “Upstate residents deserve parity to this downstate investment so that all New Yorkers benefit equitably,” Brooks told the Assembly Transportation Committee headed by Assemblyman David Gantt, D-Rochester.
Brooks, who is president of the state Association of Counties, said the state Department of Transportation has yet to release its five-year capital plan for road and bridge repair, leaving municipalities unsure what projects will get funded…For his part, Cuomo has vowed to get more infrastructure funding for upstate after the MTA deal was crafted between New York City and the state on Oct. 10.
The MTA, which provides transit services to the city and its suburbs, including the Hudson Valley, had a $9.8 billion funding gap for its five-year, $32 billion capital plan. The state will pick up the bulk of the tab, with the city and MTA funding the rest. Cuomo agreed that more infrastructure spending is needed in upstate. The concerns from Brooks and other leaders follow similar calls in recent months from upstate officials over the need to infuse cash into the upstate infrastructure. “They’re right,” Cuomo told reporters Nov. 18 in Rochester. “We always fund transportation needs all around the state. We need to fund them downstate, and we need to fund them upstate. There’s no doubt about that.”
This is a prime example of what happens when you promise money without identifying a funding source: Everyone wants a piece of the bottomless pie. With a rationalized transit funding policy, tied into revenue-generating schemes that promote transit and sensible transportation policies, it’s harder for everyone else to stick their hands in the state-sponsored cookie jar. That’s on Cuomo.
Anyway, here’s the question I pose to you: We can’t be surprised by the upstate request, but what does it mean to give them “parity,” as Brooks has requested? An $8 billion expenditure on upstate infrastructure would equate to something along the lines of $30 billion within NYC based on economic strength and impact on the state on the whole. (Tangentially, should we also consider the new Tappan Bridge an upstate project?) A policy of investing heavily in roads may be good in the short-term for upstate’s struggling economy but where does that leave New York on the whole? Ultimately, it should drive Cuomo to come up with a rational transit spending and funding program. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.