Restoring Some Sense To State Government

Many are applauding the 2019 legislative session for its responsiveness to a political agenda near and dear to the hearts of those with a far-left idea of government.

I don’t share their enthusiasm. I especially do not share the same ideas of what constitute priorities for state government. In fact, I have been outspoken in my opposition to many of the new laws approved this year.

Nevertheless, one action finally taken on the last night of this year’s session was critical. Specifically, the restoration of $65 million in state “Extreme Winter Recovery” funding to assist counties, towns, and villages regionally and throughout New York maintain and repair local roads and bridges is one of this session’s few (in my opinion) highlights.

This funding, allocated annually over the past several years through the state’s Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Programs (CHIPS), was left out of the 2019-20 state budget enacted by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature’s Democratic majorities in late March. This year’s final budget included no additional funding for CHIPS base aid AND cut the $65-million “Extreme Winter Recovery” allocation that has become invaluable to municipalities.

Together with area Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, I denounced the cuts. Over the past decade, we have worked closely with county and town highway superintendents to help build the “Local Roads Matter” advocacy campaign. We appreciate and understand how critical this funding has become to localities across New York.

Moreover, we fought for its restoration and once it was finally put back in place, we said, “The elimination of this year’s ‘Extreme Winter Recovery’ allocation pulled the foundation out from under local roads and bridges throughout this state. We are glad it has been restored because it is the absolute right thing to do. In a state budget allocating billions of dollars, including billions of dollars alone for downstate mass transit, local roads and bridges should always be a top priority. One of state government’s fundamental responsibilities is the improvement and maintenance of local roads and bridges. This ‘Extreme Winter Recovery’ restoration is critical but now we need to get back to work on building the case that this state needs to make a stronger investment in local transportation infrastructure for the sake of local communities, economies, motorists, and property taxpayers. We look forward to continuing this work.”

We do look forward to this ongoing work. In March, over 600 local highway superintendents and highway department employees representing nearly every region of the state rallied in Albany as part of the annual “Local Roads Matter” effort. Phil and I have helped lead the campaign in the Legislature since 2013 and have delivered significant funding over the past decade for local roads, bridges, and culverts. It must continue.

In a March 4 letter to the governor and legislative leaders, we made the case for stronger state support, “Local governments, for the foreseeable future, will continue to struggle to address budgetary demands in the face of the state-imposed property tax cap, rising pension and health care costs, and unfunded state mandates, among other burdens. Furthermore, despite the state’s increased commitment to CHIPS since 2013, base aid has remained stagnant over the past seven years. There is clearly a compelling case for New York State to take these proposed steps to address urgent local transportation and infrastructure shortcomings, and we believe it is simply the right thing to do. In order to meet the critical investment level needed to maintain and improve local roads, bridges, and culverts, a stronger state-local partnership is the only answer.”

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