Cuomo’s Econ Plan Whispers Sweet Transportation Nothings

Andrew Cuomo presents his economic development plan in Buffalo. It includes a section on infrastructure, but doesn't tackle the tough questions. Photo: AndrewCuomo2010 via Flickr.
Andrew Cuomo presents his economic development plan in Buffalo. It includes a section on infrastructure, but doesn't tackle the tough questions. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/44439262@N08/5033804411/##AndrewCuomo2010 via Flickr.##

When Andrew Cuomo released his “New York Works” economic development plan earlier this week, much attention was paid to the fact that he did it in Carl Paladino’s backyard. But there’s also a full chapter on rebuilding New York State’s infrastructure, particularly its transportation system, buried in that document.

The Cuomo transportation plan bears all the hallmarks of a candidate with a comfortable lead and little inclination to take risks. While it makes the right nods to the importance of infrastructure and doesn’t shy away from the dire financial situation of the state’s transportation systems, it ultimately fails to offer clear solutions and priorities.

On the MTA, by and large, Cuomo offers a familiar refrain: wringing a few more dollars out of the agency by finding efficiencies. The huge budget strain caused by the MTA’s debt burden, itself fueled by systemic disinvestment on the part of the state and city, isn’t mentioned. “In closing this budget gap,” the plan states, “the MTA should seek to keep service cuts and fare increases to a minimum and work instead in restructuring programs to find greater efficiencies.” At least it doesn’t call the MTA “bloated.”

Cuomo’s suggestions include reducing the cost of overhead, consolidating MTA functions across agencies, and streamlining the oversight of capital projects. He also admits that the first two suggestions are already in the process of being implemented.

When it comes to the $9.9 billion dollar hole in the MTA capital program, Cuomo aims to achieve savings by updating procurement procedures, consolidating the approval process, seeking more bidders on each project and attempting to negotiate lower construction costs with labor unions.

He admits the MTA will also need new revenue, but expects enough to come from the federal government and private financing. Whether the state government, which he hopes to run, will step in and how it would do so remain mysteries.

The document makes no mention of how to implement the state’s recently passed smart growth bill, and says nothing about how the state DOT can make more investments in bicycle and pedestrian projects. We have a request in with the Cuomo campaign to see if more transportation policy statements are going to be released and have yet to hear back.

Cuomo’s suggestions are at their blandest in his discussion of the much-needed replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge. “A new Administration will have to carefully study the options that have been worked on for nearly a decade,” the plan boldly states, “and promptly make a decision about the scale and financing strategy for this critical project.”

The state currently has no way to pay for this multi-billion dollar project, and big decisions about how to incorporate transit into the replacement bridge have yet to be made. Voters need to know how that bridge will be funded, and it’s a perfect opportunity for Cuomo to say whether he’ll make transit a higher priority in his administration, but this plan leaves both questions hanging.

One mention of something new is Cuomo’s call for a state infrastructure bank to leverage public funds into larger private investments. Cuomo connects an infrastructure bank with a push towards using public-private partnerships to build more infrastructure projects. But here too, the problem remains: Show me the money. Cuomo’s plan says the bank would be funded either by the state or by the federal government. How?

The section closes with the assertion that it will take “clear direction” to put transportation back on track. Unfortunately, this document offers little of that.

  • Larry Littlefield

    What does Cuomo mean by “private financing” for the MTA? Sell it off?

    There was never any private financing for MTA infrastructure. Perhaps a private company would be willing to buy and operate subway cars, as they did under the Dual Contracts, if the city maintains that infrastructure.

  • vnm

    Exactly. The private sector doesn’t just add “financing” to things without expecting to be paid back. It’s called going into debt, which is the very center of the problem the MTA is facing.

  • Larry Littlefield

    They’re coming up with all kinds of new words for debt now. DiNapoli calls it “pension smoothing.”

  • JK

    The report mentions, or alludes to, public private partnerships (P3s) more than a dozen times. P3s cover a very wide spectrum, from Design-Build contracts to privatization agreements like Chicago’s parking meter deal. Design-Build can make a lot of sense. But Design-Build-Finance schemes should spur deep public scrutiny. There is no free lunch, and investors have to be paid for the risk they are incurring. State and local governments in the US have done a very poor job of making P3 privatizations transparent. There is good reason to think that the biggest P3s — the ones government is most interested in — would not be politically approved if they were fully understood by the public.

  • Hoo! ‘sgonna be a long four years – eight, maybe? Is it too late to just re-elect Paterson?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Hoo! ’sgonna be a long four years – eight, maybe? Is it too late to just re-elect Paterson?”

    He’s one who wanted to strip every asset in site.

    It’s going to be a long 15 years no matter who is elected, if it takes as long to get out of this mess as it did to get into it. The other possibility is an institutional collapse that would take decades to recover from, something with extensive historical precedent.

  • Bolwerk

    Heh, I bet Paterson could beat Paladino.

    This is just great. A squishy Demokrat who will just maintain the status quo, and a batshit nuts fascist Republikan.

  • ^Neither of which NY needs. Cuomo will make NY deteriorate slowly over time, and Paladino will run it into the ground before you can say “we ran out of money.”

  • Kaja

    > Cuomo will make NY deteriorate slowly over time, and Paladino will run it into the ground before you can say “we ran out of money.”

    I’m 29. Given these choices, I’d much, much rather have Paladino. Bring the situation to a head now; give NYC every excuse to tell Albany to screw off & begin handling its own finances; burn her down and begin the recovery while my generation still has life left in it.

    I don’t want to spend my entire adult life watching the decline & fall.

    (Though I think this would be a benefit of a Paladino win, I also can’t responsibly say he Should Be Governor; so I’m refraining from voting in this election.)

  • john from niagara

    Cuo-mo of the same. Go ahead Dems.Vote this tax freak in. Go ahead.Then you can whine and moan how bad you have it.Welfare needs more of your money.I cant wait to leave this state.

  • I’m 29. Given these choices, I’d much, much rather have Paladino. Bring the situation to a head now; give NYC every excuse to tell Albany to screw off & begin handling its own finances; burn her down and begin the recovery while my generation still has life left in it.

    Kaja, it’s a fantasy. New York won’t be able to tell Albany to screw off, ever. It requires an act of Congress, and in Congress people get votes by bragging about how they stuck it to New York, not how they saved it. All that Paladino would do is milk the city even more.

    Just hold your nose and vote Cuomo. He’s not a serious reformer – nobody who’s electable in the state is – but he’s not a Palinite, either.

  • Kaja

    > It requires an act of Congress, and in Congress people get votes by bragging about how they stuck it to New York, not how they saved it.

    Why does it require an act of Congress? How about we just… stop paying Albany?

    Why do our political lives (and tens of billions in taxes) depend on what three hundred folks not from New York put down on scraps of paper in a malarial swamp a few hundred miles to the south?

    I’m not voting Cuomo, because I don’t want him to be governor. I don’t buy this lesser of two evils thing; voting is an endorsement of the system.

    This system sucks, and I won’t participate in it voluntarily. You shouldn’t either — by participating, you perpetuate it. Without votes, it’d have no legitimacy. By voting, this all becomes quite literally your fault.

  • J:Lai

    Hey Kaja, I basically agree with your sentiment — those who vote have no standing to complain about the system.

    I don’t vote unless there is a candidate I actually support, as opposed to picking one who just sucks a little bit less.

    Regarding a “tax revolt” against albany – legalities aside, how would this work in practice?
    I believe the major sources of tax revenue are income, property, and sales tax.
    The majority of these are collected and remitted by corporations (employers, co-ops, retailers)
    Although I guess there a fair amount of individuals directly paying property tax.
    It seems this effort would have to be led by businesses, as most individuals are not writing checks directly to Albany.

  • Kaja

    Withholding is insidious, J:Lai’s describing why. I am reminded of the British proposal whereby employers pay salaries to the state, & the state pays you less the taxes. The American empire has in a sense secured itself, by dividing the populace into easily managed chunks, called corporations with staff employees; and uniting their fortunes such that each is tied-up with the rest.

    I’d suggest a local municipality with clear real legitimacy request that businesses in its jurisdiction send their state tax payments directly to that local government.

    Bloomberg might be able to pull this off, especially if he did it in concert with a few other other mayors.

    Realistically, things need to get far worse before any of this can happen. There’s too much currently at stake; we have too much to lose. That’s why I’m inclined to root for (but not vote for) Paladino: he’ll begin to show us truly how bad it can get, and he’ll do it while Bloomberg is still mayor.

  • Kaja: splitting a state requires an act of Congress. Initiating a tax revolt against a state requires arguing it in front of federal judges, who will instantly find the city in the wrong. You can’t legally go Galt, and the last thing big business wants is to have a reputation for engaging in illegal power plays.

  • Kaja

    Alon, you ably articulate the Federal point of view. Given this state of affairs, why do you have any respect for the law?

    Empire state, indeed.

  • J. Mork

    Move land use planning authority from local municipalities to elected metropolitan/regional planning boards in order to end economically and environmentally destructive sprawl, to protect farms, green space, and environmental resources, to reduce intraregional inequities in housing, education and fiscal capacity, and to renew city, town and village centers with transit-linked, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods of mixed homes, shops, jobs, schools, parks, and civic buildings.

    http://howiehawkins.com/2010/platform.html

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