Out here in the Empire State, plenty of funds from the original Porkulus bill have arrived. But instead of going into shovel ready projects and the creation of new jobs, our perennially budget challenged state government has channeled the funds into making up shortfalls for their poor planning and inability to mange the public purse.
New York state has used most of its economic stimulus funding so far to plug holes in its budget and has spent very little on new highway construction, according to a federal watchdog.
On transportation projects, the state has spent most of its federal stimulus money so far on maintenance work, such as cleaning bridges and repaving roads. That’s because the state needed to identify tand start projects quickly. It takes about six weeks to advertise and award a highway contract and contractors are reimbursed only after the work is complete.
By the end of June, the state Department of Transportation had awarded 34 contracts and reimbursed only about $2.1 million of the $1.12 billion given to the state this year for transportation. Less than 3 percent of the projects designated so far are new construction, the report said.
There’s no question that cleaning and repaving are important, but in normal situations this work should be taking place under routine funding allocations. The extra money should ideally have gone to major projects long dormant, such as the reconstruction and expansion of I-690 and I-81 near Syracuse which were slated in both 2005 and 2007, but cancelled for lack of funding.
In all fairness, it’s true that bolstering the state budget may, in fact, save the jobs of state workers who would otherwise be laid off because of the disastrous condition of New York’s balance sheet. But was that really the intent of the stimulus money? Saving jobs is good, but projects such as roadway construction pay multiple benefits.
When Route 17 began work two years in the Southern Tier to expand to four lanes and convert it to a continuation of I-86, not only did the state hire many new workers in the area, but local businesses reported significant benefits as well, all of which resulted in more jobs and increased prosperity in the region. The same could be happening right now on major pending projects around Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo if the money had been quickly and properly targeted, since the plans for those projects have been drawn up and waiting for years.
Instead, federal stimulus funds are being shunted to cover up the holes and warts of a dysfunctional state government, with the taxpayer left to pick up the check. And, as the Syracuse Herald article points out, the long range effect of this will be virtually nill.
But the extra state money will soon run out, leaving behind the same state government machine that spends billions more than it takes in. Gov. David Paterson’s staff said it was working on an exit strategy to be revealed at the end of the year, when the next budget proposal is introduced to the Legislature. The state counties association, school districts and members of Congress have warned the state it needs to plan for the federal stimulus money to dry up.
When this stimulus money was first dished out in titanic proportions, a bit more time and effort on the part of Congress could surely have targeted for real job creation and long term benefits. Using it as a “stabilizing” stop-gap patch for failing state governments is resulting in it having roughly the same benefit as pouring golf balls down a gopher hole.