Advocates for local governments in New York and state lawmakers are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to include more funding for road and bridge repair in his annual budget.
A group of 114 state lawmakers, county and town highway superintendents, and other groups gathered in Albany this week to call for an increase in state aid for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program, also called CHIPS.
At the capitol, the group said they are seeking an increase of $200 million to the CHIPS program and to create a five-year, $500 million “State Aid to Local Roads, Bridges and Culture Program” funded with a portion of the state’s $5.4 billion bank settlement surplus.
Advocates for various causes have rallied to get a piece of the settlement money as lawmakers in Albany hunker down to hash out a budget this month.
Republicans State Senator Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, who organized the rally, said in a statement the funding is critical to “economic growth, job creation, property tax relief and motorist safety.”
Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, a Democrat representing Washington and Saratoga Counties, attended the Wednesday rally.
“This has been a tough winter, it’s a safety issue, it’s an issue of local jobs, its an issue for our farmers who are delivering products in glass bottles that could break on the potholes that we’ve got on these roads. We must restore the funding to upstate roads and bridges.”
The proposed amount of CHIPS funding in Governor Cuomo’s budget maintains the $438.1 million allocated last year. Last year the state budget also included $40 million “Winter Recovery” funding.
Saratoga County Commissioner of Public Works Keith Manz said the long winter has left the county’s roads in rough shape. Manz said 87 percent of the roads in New York are locally funded and the counties are on tight budgets.
“And after this severe winter, we have roads and bridges that have been deteriorating…with the amount of snowfall and the cold temperatures we’ve had.”
Barbara Van Epps, Deputy Director of the New York Conference of Mayors, said cities and villages restrained by the 2 percent property tax cap are struggling to keep up with other necessary costs.
“As pension costs rise and health insurance costs rise, and as we’re restricted by the tax cap, what local governments have been forced to put off is the repair and maintenance of their local bridges,” said Van Epps. “So this is the time when there is money available in the budget that we really need that additional funding to take care of this.”
The New York State Association of Counties is also pushing for the increase in funding. Deputy Director Mark LaVigne said since the beginning of the recession counties have struggled with maintaining critical infrastructure. As the state recovers, he cautioned if repairs are not made more businesses will leave New York.
“We need a sound infrastructure for new companies, new businesses, and new jobs to come to New York. If we fail to invest in this core infrastructure, then people will go elsewhere.”
A request for comment to Governor Cuomo’s press office was not returned.