The weeks between the unveiling of the state budget and final passage are always full of suggestions, rallies, and prodding over spending priorities. Today, a coalition from the North Country joined with downstate concerns calling for full funding to New York’s statewide transit capital plan.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget includes zero growth in funding for transit systems, except for a small increase for the MTA.
Transportation advocates want the state to fully fund a five-year plan that includes significant additional funding. Tri-State Transportation Campaign Policy Coordinator Nadine Lemmon, speaking Friday in Plattsburgh, explains that there are two proposed plans, an upstate and separate MTA proposal. “What we’re asking for is a fully funded statewide capital plan that’s worth $33 billion. We also need operating support because what’s happening upstate is since there’s not enough operating support what they’re doing is taking capital dollars and spending it on operating. So what we’re asking for upstate is 25 million in additional operating support in this year’s state budget.”
The transit funding is critical to the upstate region because industries there manufacture the infrastructure for bus and subway systems used by the Metropolitan Transit Authority. For example, Nova Bus in Plattsburgh employs more than 250 people and supports 375 suppliers. They in turn support sub-suppliers. Bombardier, which constructs subway cars in Plattsburgh, just completed a $25 million dollar expansion.
Nova Bus President Jean Pierre Baracat calls public transportation an economic generator across New York and says it’s critical to fund the authorities that purchase their products. “The transit authorities need to be funded so that they can know and they can issue those RFP’s. In 2008 when there was a big fall-out in terms of the economy and the funding became unpredictable, we saw a big slowdown in terms of business and we saw a big slowdown in terms of the RFP’s being issued. That affected our businesses. We had to slow down. It had an economic impact on the businesses.”
Plattsburgh Mayor Jim Calnon says business confidence in transit funding must be assured. “I decided yesterday that I needed a new pair of grey pants. I went to the mall and I bought a new pair of grey pants just like that. That’s not the way that busses and rail cars are built. Somebody decides that five years from now they need a bus or they need new rail cars. They have to then sit down and figure out what do they want? Where’s the money going to come from? Then they put it out to bid. Then our local companies will have a chance to get at it. But if all we’re doing is talking about the need without talking about the long term funding for it there’s a critical breakdown. That’s why a long term extension of the transportation act at the federal level is important and being sure that at the state level there’s a real strong commitment to the funding.”
According to the 2011 “Built in New York” report from the MTA, its capital program from 2005 to 2009 generated $1.1 billion in economic impact across the North Country and Capital Region.