The following OPED ran in the Albany Times Union.
Keep funds out from under Tap
By Peter Iwanowicz | July 7, 2014
Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to raid more than half a billion dollars dedicated to our clean water infrastructure needs to instead help his Thruway Authority build a bridge. Because these are federal funds being unilaterally redirected without public oversight or scrutiny, his actions could compromise a critical federal funding stream for our communities and undermine support for clean water projects nationwide.
Barreling forward with this arrogant plan despite broad-based opposition and red flags raised by the federal government is bad policy, bad precedent and bad for New Yorkers' overall quality of life.
Take a moment and picture life without clean drinking water or the ability to flush.
We take clean water for granted. But Cuomo's own environmental agency has called our $36 billion in clean water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years "a gathering storm." Sure, those aren't the kinds of projects that elected officials like to talk about, but they keep us healthy, make our communities more attractive and create good jobs.
Just recently, residents in Mechanicville dealt with a boil water alert. Often, local waterways are closed because of raw sewage overflow. Money is designated by the federal government to ensure that our infrastructure works and keeps us safe. That's what it should be used for.
Cuomo does not have a plan to pay for a new Tappan Zee, and needs to find the money someplace. Wary of people thinking their tolls might rise in an election year, his administration crafted a piecemeal plan behind the scenes. In fact, the only earnest public notice of this very significant fiscal action came in the form of a self-congratulatory news release light on details; the public, state legislators and even board members of the allegedly independent loaning agency — all appointed by the governor — did not get the plan until after it hit the news.
Many questions remain, including:
What legal protection does the taxpaying public have that would prevent an executive from being able to raid otherwise allocated funds for pet projects of their choosing?
What is the governor's plan for the looming $36 billion clean water infrastructure price tag our communities face?
What is the Thruway Authority's loan repayment plan? Was the Thruway Authority provided more favorable terms than the municipalities this money was designated for?
The Environmental Facilities Corp., the entity providing the loan in question, has programs bankrolled by the federal government with clearly defined purposes. They are tasked with helping communities large and small to access the funds they need. The EFC is a bureaucracy and has been criticized with making the process unnecessarily difficult or prohibitive for municipalities.
The EFC's inability to move funding out the door quickly enough is indicative of the red tape Cuomo so often speaks of cutting. Unfortunately, his administration views the stockpiling of funds as a job well done, and which can be shifted to unrelated projects of his choosing.
Executives must often grapple with tough decisions. Of all the paths the governor could have chosen, raiding much-needed clean water funds, ignoring the out-year consequences of his action, and endangering federal dollars is the wrong direction. Cuomo must accept that there are better ways to pay for his bridge.
Peter Iwanowicz is the executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York.