By JOHN JORDAN
TARRYTOWN—Construction, business and political leaders throughout New York State are coming out in support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ambitious multi-year $100-billion investment initiative to repair, replace and modernize the state’s infrastructure.
Labeled as his “Build to Lead” infrastructure program, his proposals run the gamut from a five-year $22 billion plan to fund the New York State Department of Transportation’s multi-year road and bridge repair capital program, helping fund the Tappan Zee Bridge and the Thruway toll system, to major capital projects at Penn Station and the Javits Center to even spending $5 million for a feasibility study to once again look at the development of a multi-billion dollar tunnel linking Long Island to Westchester County, the Bronx or Connecticut.
“I propose the New York: Built to Lead program. It is a development initiative that would make Governor Rockefeller jealous. A $100-billion investment in transformative projects statewide,” Gov. Cuomo said in his State of the State message delivered in Albany on Jan. 13. “All experts are unanimous that investment today in the infrastructure of tomorrow creates jobs and builds economic strength. In Washington, both sides agree. However, like so many issues, Washington just can’t get it done. In New York, we can and we will.”
His proposed $145-billion budget plan also includes a ramp up in investment to build and preserve affordable housing as well as in education funding, a continued push to enact a $15 minimum wage as well as a number of government ethics reform measures. The plan also calls for a $300-million small business tax cut.
Another major component of the 2016 budget proposal is a more than $20-billion investment over five years for the expansion of affordable housing ($10 billion) and $10.4 billion to fund an expansion of the state’s homeless program. The governor is proposing to create and preserve 100,000 affordable housing units across the state. The plan, if approved, would boost state spending on housing programs by nearly $5 billion and support the creation of 6,000 new supportive housing beds and the expansion services to the homeless.
However, it was his ‘Built to Lead” program that had construction and building industry executives rallying behind his 2016 budget plan and State of the State message.
Ross J. Pepe, president of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Inc. and the Building Contractors Association of Westchester & Mid-Hudson Region, Inc. of Tarrytown, said, “New York public policy and elected officials have dined out for decades on the toil and taxes paid by New Yorkers generations ago who built the vast networks of subways and roadways, state highways and bridges, the clean water and wastewater treatment plants—all of which have made the Empire State what it is today. These aging facilities must be restored and replaced and now is the time to proceed with the bold plan that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed for the coming fiscal year.”
Mr. Pepe noted the tremendous progress that has already been made on the largest infrastructure project in New York State history. “Here in the Hudson Valley, we have witnessed four governors who attempted—yet fell short—to replace the aging Tappan Zee Bridge with a span that meets the traffic needs of today and those of the future. In 2016 we are witnessing the resolve and ability of Gov. Cuomo to make good on his promise to replace the bridge with the breathtaking $3.9 billion duel-span structure that is now emerging from the floor of the Hudson River and which is the largest public works project current under construction in the United States.”
However, he related that the CIC and BCA have long been advocating for New York State and the federal government to increase their respective budgets for much needed infrastructure funding. “Throughout New York State, the need to rebuild anew is vast,” Mr. Pepe stressed. “There is an obvious and immediate need for infrastructure renewal, and we applaud Gov. Cuomo’s leadership in advancing this budget to continue to revitalize the state’s economy. The time is right to undertake these massive challenges with the bold action and allocation of resources the governor is now proposing.”
New York Building Congress President Richard T. Anderson said of the governor’s infrastructure initiative, “Gov. Cuomo has put forth an ambitious infrastructure agenda that surpasses anything we have seen at the New York Building Congress. In addition to the sheer scope of his transformative proposals, which encompass airports, tunnels, bridges, mass transit and economic development, Gov. Cuomo has embraced the types of innovative methods, such as public-private partnerships and design-build, that will ensure these projects can be delivered on time and on budget. The Building Congress is committed to working alongside the governor to create stronger, smarter infrastructure in New York, which in turn will drive further economic growth and create thousands of good-paying jobs for workers across this state.”
“Today Governor Cuomo set forth an ambitious agenda that will continue to transform New York State, make historic investments in our schools, stimulate local economies, build world-class infrastructure and tackle the issues of poverty and inequality in our cities,” said Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano. I applaud the governor’s proposals and look forward to continuing to work with him and leaders of the Senate, Assembly and our Yonkers Delegation. I also look forward to working with state leaders to strengthen our partnership and ensure that Yonkers schools receive the resources that they deservingly need.”
However, the governor’s plan received a luke-warm response from Republican political leaders in the Hudson Valley. For example, Rockland County Executive Ed Day released a statement that praised the governor’s Thruway toll proposal, but called the budget agenda “overly ambitious,” County Executive Day said he was pleased that $1 billion of the state’s $5-billion bank settlement funds will be spent to freeze tolls until 2020 on the Thruway and the Tappan Zee Bridge, including the new bridge. “As I have said repeatedly, our commuters and businesses simply cannot afford the burden of even-higher tolls. Additionally, the governor’s proposal to transfer the state Canal Corporation from the Thruway Authority will help keep local dollars from maintaining a canal system most of us will never use. I have been especially vocal on both of these issues. Sadly, there was little focus on mandate relief. Unfunded state mandates continue to grow, crushing our local governments, with no end in sight.”
Former Republican gubernatorial challenger and Westchester County
Executive Robert Astorino criticized Cuomo’s anti-corruption proposals and characterized the governor’s ambitious infrastructure program as “delusional.”
“For five years he’s failed to find $3 billion in funding for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, and now he’s throwing out pie-in-the-sky ideas that could cost taxpayers $100 billion or more. There’s a reason companies like GE and so many middle class families are leaving our state,” Mr. Astorino said, referring to General Electric’s decision not to relocate its headquarters to Westchester County and New York City and instead shift its operations from Fairfield, CT to Boston. “Rather than buckling down and doing the hard work required to make New York State economically competitive again; instead of working to rebuild a jobs and business base robust enough to revitalize our infrastructure; instead of pushing for a state term limits law that would revitalize state government, Mr. Cuomo is playing disingenuous games with proposals he knows will never happen. If they did, the state would be bankrupted.”
In addition to the ongoing nearly $4-billion new Tappan Zee Bridge project, a multi-billion dollar commitment from the state in connection to help pay for the estimated $20-billiom Gateway Tunnel project in New York City and New Jersey, as well as previously announced $4-billion improvement and modernization projects at LaGuardia and JFK airports, the governor is also proposing a host of infrastructure initiatives as part of his “Built to Lead” infrastructure program. Those multi-year initiatives include:
* Transform and expand vital infrastructure downstate and make critical investments in the downstate region. Most notably, the proposal includes a major expansion and improvement project for the Long Island Rail Road between Floral Park and Hicksville. The plan also includes improvements to Republic Airport as well as the $5 million study of a tunnel connecting Long Island to the Bronx, Westchester or Connecticut.
* Invest $250 million in support for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects across the state, predominantly in Upstate communities.
* Invest $700 million in Thruway infrastructure, including the new Tappan Zee Bridge, on top of last year’s commitment of $1.285 billion in funding. As a result of this investment the Thruway will be able to freeze tolls for all drivers until at least 2020.
* The governor is also proposing to spend $22 billion for a multi-year capital plan to upgrade critical roads, bridges and other vital transportation infrastructure throughout the state, especially in Upstate New York.
* The budget proposal calls for spending $3 billion to transform Penn Station and the historic James A. Farley Post Office into a world-class transportation hub.
* Another major New York City initiative is a $1-billion proposal to redevelop the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
* The governor also calls for $26.1-billion over the next five years to fund mass transit. According to figures supplied by New York State, the state’s share of funding the MTA’s capital program would be more than $8.3 billion. This proposal includes the redesign and improvements to 30 existing subway stations across the system.
* The governor is also proposing a $200-million competition to revitalize Upstate airports.
* He is also calling for a $1-billion expansion of broadband in order to improve access to high-speed Internet in communities statewide. The state funding for this program would be $500 million.
Other initiatives include $750 million in funding for the Regional Economic Development competition awards, a $300-million environmental protection fund and a $3.475-billion housing plan.