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Hochul urged to restore transportation cuts amid rising costs


(The Center Square) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is being criticized for cutting road and bridge upgrade funding as part of a capital infrastructure plan.

In a letter to Hochul, a bipartisan group of lawmakers faulted the Democrat for proposing $100 million in cuts to local road, bridge and culvert funding for the third year of the five-year Department of Transportation Capital Plan included in her preliminary budget proposal for the next fiscal year.

The lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, said Hochul’s proposal “fails to recognize or understand the significant impact inflation is having on local highway departments,” with federal data showing highway construction costs have increased by nearly 59% over the past two years.

“In light of these unprecedented cost increases alone, the governor’s proposal is unacceptable,” they wrote. “It simply will not get the job done.”

The lawmakers said Hochul’s capital plan calls for cutting the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program by $60 million and the State Touring Routes Program by $40 million. The cut will shift more infrastructure costs to cities and towns, they said.

“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, health care and highway construction costs, and unfunded state mandates, among other burdens,” they wrote.

The lawmakers pointed out that local governments are responsible for maintaining nearly 87% of the roads in New York State and one-half of the state’s 18,000 bridges, while drivers on local roads contribute almost half of all the gas taxes collected annually.

While the $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act increased federal highway aid to New York by 52%, with the state slated to receive $13.4 billion, a $4.6-billion increase over the previous fiscal year, local roadways are not eligible for that infrastructure funding.

The lawmakers pointed to estimates from the state Comptroller’s office, the state Department of Transportation and other agencies showing a “large number of local road mileage deteriorating and many local bridges rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.”

“If the overriding goal is this state’s economic competitiveness, it cannot be overlooked that businesses locate in towns, villages, and cities and, therefore, it is imperative to ensure that local roads and bridges are maintained to spur economic development and job creation, while helping to control property taxes for individuals and businesses,” they wrote.

The push for more pothole money for cities and towns is being aided by the “Local Roads Are Essential” advocacy campaign, sponsored by the New York State Association of County Highway Superintendents and the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways. During the budget debate, the campaign travels to Albany every year to press for more state funding.

“Record high inflation rates on highway construction materials have severely increased costs and, as a result, our local highway maintenance programs are struggling to meet our infrastructure needs,” Ken Thurston, Schuyler County’s highway superintendent, said in a statement. “The Governor’s Executive Budget proposal to cut funding will create additional burdens and issues.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul filed a preliminary $233 billion budget in January that includes $2.4 billion to help New York City manage its migrant crisis – a $500 million increase.

Republican lawmakers have seized on that to blast Hochul for committing billions of dollars in state spending on “misguided and misplaced priorities” in her budget plan.

“She commits billions upon billions of dollars to provide programs and services to thousands of illegal migrants streaming into this state with no end in sight,” state Sen. Tom O’Mara, R, C-Big Flats, said in a statement with other GOP lawmakers. “She is pushing forward politically driven energy mandates on all New Yorkers that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars.”

“Yet to afford these and many other questionable spending priorities, Gov. Hochul is attempting to balance her budget by cutting fundamental responsibilities in education, transportation, and other key areas,” they wrote. “It’s wrong and it can’t stand.”