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HV Lawmakers Discuss Using Settlement Funds For New TZB

WAMC, Allison Dunne

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Wednesday delivered his State of the State address and budget plan. Included were proposals for using some of bank settlement money for construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

Governor Cuomo unveiled how he would like to spend a one-time windfall of more than $5 billion in bank settlement funds. Here’s where he thinks some of it should go.

“We also propose using $1.2 billion of the settlement funds to protect Thruway toll payers for a year for the next year and to help finance the Tappan Zee Bridge.”

“It sounds good at first blush,” says Day. “It should be better, in my view.”

That’s Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day. He and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino in December called for using $1.95 billion of the settlement money to help fund the new Tappan Zee Bridge. Day says Cuomo’s proposal is about 35 percent less.

“There’s two issues here. Number one, it is significantly less than we requested. I don’t know to what degree it’s going to mitigate tolls,” Day says. “And the other issue is that it’s vague. It speaks to this funding going to the Thruway and Tappan Zee Bridge. I don’t know what the breakdown is, and I think we have a right to know that considering that 20 percent of the Thruway’s operating budget comes from Tappan Zee Bridge tolls currently.”

Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey, the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee who represents all of Rockland and parts of Westchester, helped secure a $1.6 billion federal loan to help finance construction of the estimated $3.9 billion replacement Tappan Zee Bridge. She says she is working to secure additional federal funding. State Senator David Carlucci, an Independent Democrat, praises the use of settlement funds for the bridge, but is thinking longer term.

“So I think the, putting the $1.3 billion towards the Tappan Zee Bridge is great for the residents in our community, but in addition to that we’ve got to have long-term solutions,” Carlucci says. “So I think it’s important that we study the issue of having a merger between the Authorities, particularly the Bridge Authority and the Thruway Authority.”

Day and Astorino support exploring such an idea. Democratic Assemblyman Frank Skartados does not. He is concerned that such a merger would negatively impact residents and the Hudson Valley economy. He fears a merger could prompt a toll increase on bridges in his district – the Newburgh Beacon and Mid-Hudson Bridges - to pay for the Tappan Zee. Again, Carlucci:

“I’ve put forth legislation that would have a study to make sure that we’re reviewing a few things," Carlucci says. "So we’re reviewing the duplicative administrative costs, see if there’s ways that we could share services and administrative and personnel; also find ways that we could share services in terms of capital projects; and also do a study to see will the taxpayer, the toll payer, actually save if we were to merge the Bridge and the Thruway Authority.”

Republican Assemblyman from East Fishkill Kieran Lalor has mixed feelings about Cuomo’s proposal.

“Keeping the tolls down for one year, that really doesn’t, that’s not something that I find acceptable. That’s just putting off a bad thing for an extra year. I don’t know why that’s good,” says Lalor. “I agree with the general concept of using this settlement money for infrastructure projects, not fill a few gaps here and solve some temporary problems.”

He supports using some of the settlement money for construction of the replacement Tappan Zee. Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Cahill of Kingston says he hopes negotiations in his chamber bring more of the settlement money to infrastructure projects.

“I think that this was a one-time opportunity to take a one-shot revenue and do something that’s been long needed and that is to invest in our physical infrastructure,” says Cahill.  “We have great needs across the state of New York both at the state level and at the local level. Bridges, roads, water systems, sewer systems all need a desperate injection of new funds. This opportunity, $5 billion and change, could have given us that opportunity.”

When Cuomo went over his proposed $141.6 billion budget, he said that of the more than $5 billion in bank settlement funds, $850 million would go toward what is owed to the federal government for a discrepancy in past billings. He wants to spend $1.5 billion on upstate revitalization in the form of three $500 million revitalization grants to winning regions in upstate New York. $3 billion, including money for the new Tappan Zee, would be for infrastructure and other investments.

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