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Lake Ontario flood relief program stalled at governor's desk

Randy Gorbman
WXXI News File Photo
In the town of Greece in late May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced $7 million in grants for homeowners affected by this year's flooding along Lake Ontario.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not signing a bill the New York State Legislature passed last week that would provide grants for flood victims along Lake Ontario. 

The $90 million program would offer money to homeowners, businesses and municipalities to help cover the cost of repairs from this year's historically high levels on Lake Ontario and other waterways in the area.

At a press conference last week after the legislature adjourned, Cuomo's budget director Robert Mujica said the bill needs to be amended before it can become law.

"There's no appropriation in that bill and there are other technical issues with the bill," Mujica said. "As it stands, there's no funding behind it so we're working with the legislature to correct the bill."

Cuomo spokesperson Richard Azzopardi said the way the bill is drafted, it would not accomplish its goals - saying there is no specific appropriation authority attached to it. 

The bill's author, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle (D-Irondequoit), disagrees. He says the grants are paid for with part of the annual economic development funding the legislature gives to the Empire State Development Corporation.

"When something like this comes along, obviously unanticipated but has a huge economic impact on the region, it seems to me logical that we would take some of those unallocated dollars and use them for relief for homeowners, businesses and municipalities that are dealing with what are historic water levels and causing millions and millions of dollars of damages," Morelle said. 

The governor also has concerns about the lack of an income eligibility requirement on the grant application. Sen. Pam Helming, the bill's sponsor in the senate, said Cuomo proposed a $125,000 income threshold on the grant program early last week. 

"The problem with Morelle's bill is that there is no income threshold and we'd be reimbursing multimillionaires for damages," Azzopardi said. "The median household income in New York is $56,000 -- why should we be flipping the bill for multimillionaires?"

Helming said she was unwilling to bend on that request. She says this is not a free handout program, noting that funding will be awarded through an application process that is vetted by several organizations. 

Morelle says he's open to adding means testing if the governor can prove it has been used in the past with other storm recovery bills.

The flood relief grant program was passed unanimously by the Senate and Assembly enough support to override any veto from the governor. But Morelle says he is willing to negotiate so the funding can get through to property owners.

"We will take this one step at a time," Morelle said. "I would certainly hope that he doesn’t veto the bill. If he has suggestions on the need to modify this that is consistent with what we have done for other regions in the past, I’m certainly open to that."

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.