Right before Christmas, Governor Andrew Cuomo handed out $760 million in so-called capital grants and state tax credits throughout New York. One goodie he doled out to the tune of $3.5 million was for the construction of a hip-hop museum in the Bronx.
When grappling with his first budget in 2011, Cuomo condemned “Members Items”— pork awarded by legislative leaders to members who behaved themselves and towed the party line during the legislative session — as a waste of taxpayer dollars.
After being praised by editorials and the good government crowd for eliminating this abuse, Cuomo turned around and established his own pork machine via Regional Economic Development Councils.
Since 2011, Cuomo has handed out over $6.2 billion of goodies to local businesses and communities. And anyone who thinks the grants are not politically connected should get their heads examined.
A report released in December by the Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog, questioned the selection process: “…the implementation of REDC has shortcomings. Many of the projects are unrelated to regional or state economic development strategies. Projects tied to strategies are dispersed among industries and areas within each region such that no single strategy garners the sustained, intensive investment necessary to spur lasting economic growth. Finally, REDC activity is opaque, with inadequate follow-up reporting on each project and inconsistent of regional performance.”
While tossing around money for dubious projects throughout Long Island, the governor appears to be ignoring the Island’s crumbling infrastructure.
An analysis recently made public by the Long Island Contractor’s Association revealed that of the 379 miles of roads analyzed, “82 percent were rated to be in ‘poor’ or ‘fair’ condition.”
One hundred and forty-seven miles of pavement tested were rated in “poor” condition; and 164.4 miles were rated in “fair” condition. A mere 1 percent were rated “excellent.”
What is most interesting about the finding of the independent study performed by Advance Testing Company is that the worst sections of highways examined were segments of roads controlled by the state: Meadowbrook State Parkway, New York State Route 109, Northern State Parkway, and Southern State Parkway.
One does not need to be an engineer to know that for Long Islanders, safe roads are essential. That’s because Nassau and Suffolk residents own over 2.3 million automobiles. That number of vehicles exceeds the total in New York City’s five boroughs.
Lawrence Levy, Dean of Hofstra’s National Center for Suburban Studies, put it this way: “Suburbia is reliant on the automobile to move people and trucks to move goods. It is unthinkable to allow our roads to deteriorate to the point where they not only impede economic progress but possibly pose a safety hazard. America’s oldest suburb cannot let its infrastructure age prematurely and expect to remain viable.”
At a Dec. 6 hearing of the state Assembly Committee on Transportation, Marc Herbst, executive director of LICA, pointed out that “Simply put, there are not enough funds allocated to address [road infrastructure] needs.”
He went on to say “The interstate highway system and most state highways were built over 50 years ago and we should prepare for most to reach the completion of their life cycles simultaneously. It is imperative for our government leaders to identify funding sources to responsibly address the tremendous needs in the next spending plan.”
Herbst, a former assemblyman and ordained minister, called on the Legislature to fund our crumbling infrastructure “with an amendment in each legalized sports betting, legalized marijuana and prostitution decriminalization bills” which are projected to generate $375 million annually.
Instead of pandering to special interests with pork subsidies, it’s time for the governor and the Legislature to abandon such follies and to focus on the needs of every citizen — safe roads and highways.