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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is touting a massive infrastructure plan, but budget experts said much of the funding for the projects, estimated to cost $100 billion, remains unresolved. They also question what they said is a cost-shift from the State to New York City.
Cuomo is so focused on a massive state infrastructure upgrade that even the slogan for the Governor’s 2016 agenda is called “Built to Lead.” “It’s a development initiative that would make Governor Rockefeller jealous,” Cuomo said at his State of the State speech.
But his budget proposal does not clearly outline how he will pay for everything, such as adding a third track to the Long Island Railroad, revamping Penn Station, and spending $22 billion on road and bridge repairs upstate.
“You do have to take this capital plan with a grain of salt,” said EJ McMahon, with the fiscally conservative Empire Center. McMahon predicted the projects, “. . . will happen in a different way and on a different schedule than the governor may have implied.”
Tammy Gamerman, with the budget watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission, has also analyzed the proposed budget. “Most of the money for these projects is not contained within the state budget,” Gamerman said. She said the spending plan leaves many questions unanswered. However, she said the $22 billion for fixing upstate roads and bridges seems to be in the budget within the State Department of Transportation. The money for additional housing and water infrastructure is also accounted for, she said.
Governor Cuomo also pledged to rein in spending for the sixth year in a row and said he will hold spending to only 1.7 percent more than last year. But those spending restrictions seem to come at the expense of New York City, where the governor has had a long running feud with its Mayor, Bill deBlasio. Cuomo wants to reverse a policy in which the state pays for increased Medicaid costs, which go up every year. Cuomo wants New York City to pay for those cost increases. He also proposed increasing the City’s share of the City University of New York’s budget. The changes could cost New York City a billion dollars.
The left-leaning Working Families Party, which has had its battles with Cuomo, called the cuts “drastic” and Mayor deBlasio vowed to fight them. Gamerman said analysts at Citizens Budget Commission were also “shocked” when they saw the details. “It’s an unfunded mandate on New York City,” Gamerman said.
McMahon said the cuts cannot be explained in any other way than as part of a political fight. “It really does seem to be like kicking sand in his face,” McMahon said. The proposed cuts have generated negative news stories and editorials. Governor Cuomo made two impromptu appearances, on public radio and the cable news channel New York 1, to defend them and do some damage control. “They want to look at what they call cuts to New York City,” Cuomo said. “Frankly, they don’t want to look at the positive.”
The governor said the spending reductions are aimed at streamlining what he calls the “bureaucracy” at the health departments and university systems. He said the cuts will be offset from all of the infrastructure projects he proposed, as well as a $20-billion plan to house the homeless.
© 2016 North Country Public Radio