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Politics and Government

Infrastructure vs. development: Which argument will win the budget debate in Albany?

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Durrie Bouscaren
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WRVO News File Photo

Among the debates in Albany this budget season -- what to do with $5.4 billion in surplus money from a state settlement with banks. Much of that discussion has come down to two options for spending a portion of the cash --either on economic development or infrastructure.

Cuomo says he’s already proposing to spend some of the windfall on infrastructure projects including the Tappen Zee Bridge construction and New York State Thruway, among other things. The governor also wants to spend $1.5 billion of it on an economic development competition among seven regions upstate.

Cuomo is adamant that local governments need to fix their own roads and bridges and not be so dependent on state handouts.

“The state can’t subsidize endlessly, local governments that can’t pay their own bills,” said the governor.

So where does a cash-strapped municipality get the money to fix crumbling pipes and roadways?  In Cuomo’s view, economic development.

“If we’re creating jobs and there’s an economy, there will be revenue and the city will have money and the county will have money,” said Cuomo.

Mayors and highway superintendents across the state say that’s a backward way of looking at things.    

Syracuse-area state Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Republican, and member of a statewide lobbying group called REBUILD New York Now, says this kind of thinking puts the cart before the horse.

"Why would we ever try to attract businesses, when there’s 100 water main breaks [in Syracuse],” said DeFrancisco. “What’s that going to show companies that we’re trying to attract to be here?"

Moreover, DeFrancisco also seems tired of the Cuomo administration penchant for doling out economic development dollars by way of competitions between different regions.

“We’ve got plenty of economic development projects. And we don’t need the whole state of New York to compete on everything. Everything. It’s like the competition is never ending,” said DeFrancisco.

This debate is one of a series in play in Albany, leading up to a state budget that is supposed to be approved by April 1.