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Mr. Card goes to Albany: Joins officials pressuring governor

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. was in Albany last week with more than 600 other highway officials.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. was in Albany last week with more than 600 other highway officials.

Something’s amiss with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s math.

At least that’s how Shelter Island Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. sees it. While the state maintains only 13 percent of roadways and bridges in New York and local municipalities are responsible for the other 87 percent, that’s not how Albany allocates money.

Not only does the governor want municipalities to pay for their own road maintenance costs, but he wants them to undertake some of the work done on state roads without compensation.

With a road like Route 114 running through the center of the Island, Mr. Card is left with a choice: let the main Island roadway deteriorate because state contractors hired to maintain it have neither the materials and equipment nor personnel to fix it; or assign his own crew to maintain it with no money from the state.

The injustice, as he sees it, is why Mr. Card was Albany last week with more than 600 other county and town highway officials from across the state making a case at the capitol for more state money if they’re to keep essential infrastructure of the state from continuing to crumble.

Besides meeting with legislators, those rallying in Albany endorsed a letter to Governor Cuomo from the New York State Highway Superintendents Association and the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways.

“The New York State Comptroller’s studies indicate a large number of road mileage is deteriorating and many bridges in the state are rated structurally deficient and functionally obsolete,” the letter said.

The numbers contained in the letter were compiled by ATSH lobbyist Fred Hiffa.

The tone of the letter to the governor is polite in making the case. But Mr. Card is less polite about what he sees as decisions in Albany being driven by politics.

“This shouldn’t be a political thing, but he’s turned it into a political thing,” Mr. Card said. The governor is making “a shrinking investment in New York’s future. “If I was governor, it’s nothing I’d be proud of,” he added.

Mr. Card said it’s not a partisan issue, pointing out that he’s an elected Democratic official,the same as the governor.

The history of the funding issue goes back 20 years ago, when the state created two equal capital funds — one to finance the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the other the Department of Transportation. But as time went by, the MTA funding increased while the DOT money decreased.

Between 2010 and 2015, the MTA fund was receiving $23.8 billion of the requested $25.9 billion. The highway funds, however, were receiving $18.6 billion of a requested $25.8 billion.

“It was always designed to be an equitable system,” Mr. Card said. But instead, residents here are “subsidizing the MTA,” he added.

At the same time that municipalities were finding less money coming into their coffers from the state for road work, Mr. Cuomo implemented his 2-percent cap on rasing municipal taxes, meaning less local tax money would be available,

Adding insult to injury, Governor Cuomo made statements “that stick in the craw” of those trying to maintain local roads on which residents and visitors depend, Mr. Card said.

The governor has said he views CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program) money as “pork barrel spending” and is opposed to allowing legislators to bring back “pet projects” to their districts. “The state can’t subsidize endlessly local governments that can’t pay their own bills,” Mr. Cuomo said.

But municipalities count on the CHIPS money to close gaps in their own budgets, Mr. Card said.

When the town seeks money to shore up the Ram Island causeways, for example, it’s not because it’s a pet project, he said. Without those improvements, people living in the Rams can be cut off during storms from receiving assistance from ambulances, firefighters and other emergency services.

Governor Cuomo’s office did not respond to requests for an interview by press time.
the numbers game

Numbers don’t favor municipalities when it comes to keeping infrastructure from falling apart. Local governments maintain about 897,500 miles of roadways while the state is responsible for a mere fraction of that — about 8,600 miles. In addition, only 17 percent of gasoline taxes go to the local municipalities, according to the associations of highway officials.

The state received $5 billion in foreign bank settlement funds to be used toward infrastructure, but the governor’s budget allocated none of those funds for local roads and bridges, the associations say.

Both organizations of local officials estimate there is a $1.32 billion annual funding gap and asked Mr. Cuomo “to provide at a minimum funding for CHIPS at $638 million and $39.7 million per year for the next five years in a fund that’s reimbursed by feds after the state and local budgets have paid for specific projects.

Were those who went to Albany heard by the elected representatives?

“We’re very optimistic,” said Mr. Hiffa, the town superintendents’ lobbyist.

“They get it,” Mr. Card said.