“Road To Nowhere”: Governor Paterson’s Decision To Stop Payments To Construction Contractors Hurts New York’s Economy, Makes Roads And Bridges Unsafe For Motorists
Legislative column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua)
April 16, 2010
As readers know by now, the 2010-11 State Budget is late. In fact, the budget is actually 15 days past due, with no end in sight. Without a budget in place, emergency budget extenders – legislation that provides temporary funding for basic operations of state government on a weekly or bi-weekly basis – are required. Emergency budget extenders are not something new – since this year’s late State Budget marks the 21st time since 1985 that New York’s spending plan has been late, extenders have been routinely enacted to avoid a state government shut down in the absence of a budget. CONTROVERSIAL DECISION BY GOVERNOR PATERSON IS COSTING JOBS What is different about this year’s budget extenders – two of which already have been enacted since New York’s April 1 fiscal deadline was missed – is Governor Paterson’s inclusion of a very controversial provision that stopped state payments to construction contractors. This halting of state payments by the Governor affects new construction projects and also some that are currently in the pipeline. Many of these projects include much-needed repair, renovation and resurfacing for New York’s roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure. These are very big, very necessary, construction projects that our state’s aging infrastructure system needs. The projects also provide good-paying jobs and have a positive spin-off effect on the local economies where they are located. After all, construction workers need places to eat, purchase gas for their vehicles, along with countless other goods and services that are the backbone of local economies. GOVERNOR’S ACTIONS MEAN FEWER JOBS, UNSAFE ROADS In response to the Governor stopping state payments, work on over a dozen construction projects is now on hold. Some construction contractors have been forced to lay off workers due to insufficient funds to meet payrolls, and others have begun taking legal action against the state to get the money restored and the contracts honored. All told, over $600 million in construction projects are currently on hold, with more notifications and layoffs expected in the coming weeks. At a time when our state has over 800,000 people jobless, it makes absolutely no sense to further compound the problem by putting even more New Yorkers out of work. Sadly, this was just one of many consequences of Governor Paterson’s ill-conceived decision to halt payments to construction contractors and is a textbook example of how to make a bad economy even worse. Besides adding to the number of unemployed New Yorkers, the Governor’s policy could mean unsafe roadways and bridges for motorists. In fact, according to the State Comptroller, there are 93 bridges in use in New York with a safety rating at or below the Lake Champlain Bridge prior to its closure. Without question, ensuring the safety and structural integrity of those 93 bridges must be a top priority. However, by preventing necessary construction work from going forward, the Governor’s decision means these needs will continue to go unmet. HOLDING PUBLIC MEETINGS, NOT STOPPING PAYMENTS TO CONTACTORS, IS WHAT THE GOVERNOR SHOULD BE DOING TO GET STATE BUDGET DONE I believe that Governor Paterson’s policy to stop payments to construction contractors is a “road to nowhere.” That is why, earlier this week, I called on the Governor to re-think his decision that already has cost hundreds of jobs across New York – and could potentially put 5,000 jobs in our state at risk, according to the General Contractors Association of New York State, Inc. The Governor’s stated intention for delaying these payments was because our state faces a looming cash crunch and a projected $9.05 billion budget deficit. While these facts are undeniable, my question is why hasn’t the Governor been meeting in public with all the Legislative Leaders and asking for real solutions, as I have continually called for? Inexplicably, the Governor has yet to call any such public meeting. Bad decisions that result in more New Yorkers out of work, while leaving our roadways, bridges and other critical infrastructure unsafe for motorists, will not achieve the types of systemic changes needed to bring the state’s budget back into balance. What is particularly frustrating for many contractors is a perception that the Governor’s policy appears arbitrary, especially since appropriations in last year’s State Budget essentially paid for many of these construction projects. It is as if taxpayers are now being asked to pay for infrastructure projects twice. CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTORS CANNOT BE SINGLED OUT It is clear that the damage caused by hundreds, possibly thousands, of working New Yorkers being laid off, and our roadways and bridges falling into further disrepair, warrants Governor Paterson’s reconsideration of his ill-advised policy. Construction contractors did not cause the state’s financial problems – years of fiscally irresponsible taxing, spending and borrowing policies did. As I have said before, state government cannot try to balance its books on the backs of private sector employers, construction workers or at the expense of motorist safety. The Governor needs to remove his hold on state funding to construction contractors so all of these stalled projects can move forward and more New Yorkers can get back to work. As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter, should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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