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Governor says infrastructure panel will end a "bizarre" and "wasteful" situation

Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed his second blue ribbon panel of the week - this time to oversee infrastructure and capital projects including road and bridge repairs for the state.

Governor Cuomo says the task force represents a break from the old way of divvying up money for capital projects like road and bridge repair and new buildings, where each state agency operated in its own little universe.  The governor says there’s a "lot of damage" that needs to be undone.

“The current situation is wasteful and bizarre,” said Cuomo. “Multiple government agencies all doing their own long term capital plans. Without even talking to each other.”

In the past, governors and majority party legislative leaders often divided up the monies for capital projects among themselves, with no public input. That tradition ground to a halt under former Governor David Paterson, when he and legislative leaders could not agree how to distribute the money for upstate projects.

The panels can also be seen as a means to circumvent existing government institutions, like the legislature. Although the Assembly and Senate majority parties each get two representatives on the 13 member panel, the governor gets the majority, with nine appointees.

The panel’s recommendations for infrastructure projects will not have to be approved by the legislature. Lawmakers did, however, agree to the creation of the panel in December.

Earlier in the week, Cuomo created a new panel on education, to be chaired by former Citigroup CEO Richard Parsons. It bypasses the existing educational policy body in New York, the State Board of Regents.

The governor appointed Felix Royhatyn, the investment banker who is credited with helping bail out New York City during the fiscal crises of the 1970s, to chair his infrastructure panel.  Royhatyn was recently an advisor to the now defunct Lehman Brothers.  He expressed frustration with his dealings with government bureaucracies in the past.

“It’s really uphill when you are dealing with these bureaucracies,” he said.

The governor also named recently retired president of the state’s AFL-CIO Denis Hughes, as well as the head of the watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission,  the mayors of Syracuse and Buffalo, and a construction union leader to the panel.

And Cuomo announced a second round of grants through his regional economic development councils, totaling $750 million dollars.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.