Gov. Cuomo's $100B List of Projects Will Cost N.Y. Far Less

A careful review of his budget proposal shows the Democratic governor is counting on money from federal, private or other sources and that the actual price tag for the state will be far less.

📅   Mon January 25, 2016 - Northeast Edition
David Klepper - ASSOCIATED PRESS


A careful review of his budget proposal shows the Democratic governor is counting on money from federal, private or other sources and that the actual price tag for the state will be far less.
A careful review of his budget proposal shows the Democratic governor is counting on money from federal, private or other sources and that the actual price tag for the state will be far less.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Three billion dollars for a new Penn Station. Twenty billion for affordable housing and the homeless. Another $22 billion for highways and bridges. And $26 billion for New York City transit.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's $100 billion list of proposals and projects reads like an expensive one, likely the grandest in New York state history. But a careful review of his budget proposal shows the Democratic governor is counting on money from federal, private or other sources and that the actual price tag for the state will be far less.

Many of the projects will be spread out over several years. Others, like upgrades at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, aren't fully funded at all, with the budget offering only promises of future funding. For the Democratic governor, it's a creative way of having it both ways: he can take credit for big projects while also keeping a lid on state spending.

“It is a development initiative that would make Gov. Rockefeller jealous,' he said, referencing the leader who built Albany's Empire State Plaza, constructed thousands of miles of highways and greatly expanded the state university system. “A $100 billion investment in transformative projects statewide.'

But for lawmakers wondering about sticker shock in the governor's $145 billion state budget proposal, the math is puzzling.

“It's tough to find the meat in here,' said Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, a Republican. “I have no clue how it all adds up.'

Cuomo's administration argues that leveraging federal and private funds will reduce the burden on New Yorkers, and make long-needed projects a reality.

“These vital infrastructure projects, as previously stated, will be funded over multiple years from a combination of state, federal and private resources,' said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi. “There will always be cynics who say ‘This can't be done' — in Albany that's a profession — but the Tappan Zee Bridge and LaGuardia are real examples of what's needed to move New York forward.'

Cuomo's plan to spend $22 billion on highways and bridges will be spread over five years and will rely on significant federal funds. A $20 billion plan to add affordable housing and shelter beds to address a homelessness and housing crisis will also be split over five years.

Federal funds and loans make up large parts of Cuomo's highway plan and the ongoing replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Private funds are a vital part of the $4 billion plan to rebuild the cramped LaGuardia Airport and a $1 billion expansion of the Javits convention center in Manhattan. The $3 billion plan to overhaul Penn Station would be largely privately financed in exchange for commercial rights.

“A lot of these projects — Javits, Penn station, LaGuardia — these don't even show up in the budget,' said Tammy Gamerman, a senior researcher at the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit organization that studies the finances of New York City and New York state. “And many of them are just in the idea stage. There isn't a firm number for how much they will cost.'

A new rail line under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey is another example. Cuomo negotiated a deal with New Jersey and the federal government last fall that will split the cost of the $20 billion project, with Washington contributing half and the two states paying the rest.

One of the largest single public projects is the $26 billion effort to modernize the MTA by redesigning 30 subway stations, replacing aging subway cars and buses and installing new signaling and control equipment. Another $3 billion would go to repair and maintain MTA bridges and tunnels.

The state has agreed to put $8.3 billion toward the $29 billion plan. New York City will pay $2.5 billion, the federal government will chip in $6.4 billion and tolls and fares will help cover the remainder.

Cuomo and lawmakers already have approved $1 billion of the state's contribution. The remaining $7.3 billion? The budget only promises the money but doesn't actually appropriate it.

“His policy seems to be: announce big, new, flashy stuff while maintaining the pretense that it's not going to cost anything,' said E.J. McMahon, president at the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy. “The biggest single state-funded capital improvement, and it's not even in there. You either appropriate the money or you don't. ... He's Rockefeller on the cheap.'

When the federal, local and private funds are taken out, McMahon said Cuomo's $100 billion proposal shows only a $3.8 billion increase in state capital spending over five years.

The governor is dipping into a $2.3 billion surplus created by settlements with financial institutions to support some of his transportation projects and the homelessness proposal, as well as a freeze on Thruway tolls and significant increase in environmental protections.

Cuomo vows to make his wish list happen, and points the new Tappan Zee Bridge going up over the Hudson — following decades of talk about the need for the project — as proof he can get it done.

“Not only is this a plan and a vision, but it is going to happen,' he said when he announced the Javits Center expansion. “Government has gotten too good at announcing plans that never actually materialize. I am in the opposite business.”