Three billion dollars for a new Penn Station. Twenty billion for affordable housing and the homeless. Another $22 billion for highways and bridges. And $26 billion for New York City transit.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $100 billion list of proposals and projects reads like an expensive one, likely the grandest in New York state history. But a careful review of his budget proposal shows the Democratic governor is counting on money from federal, private or other sources and that the actual price tag for the state will be far less.
Many of the projects will be spread out over several years. Others aren’t fully funded. For the Democratic governor, it’s a creative way of taking credit for big projects while also keeping a lid on state spending.
“It is a development initiative that would make Gov. Rockefeller jealous,” he said, referencing the leader who built Albany’s Empire State Plaza, constructed thousands of miles of highways and greatly expanded the state university system. “A $100 billion investment in transformative projects statewide.”
But for those wondering about sticker shock in the $145 billion state budget proposal, the math is puzzling.
“It’s tough to find the meat in here,” said Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, a Republican. “I have no clue how it all adds up.”
Cuomo’s plan to spend $22 billion on highways and bridges will be spread over five years and will rely on significant federal funds. A $20 billion plan to add housing and shelter beds to address a homelessness and housing crisis will also be split over five years.
Federal funds and loans make up large parts of Cuomo’s highway plan. Private funds are a vital part of the $4 billion plan to rebuild LaGuardia Airport, a $1 billion expansion of the Javits convention center and the $3 billion Penn Station overhaul.
A new rail line under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey is another example. Cuomo negotiated a deal with New Jersey and the federal government last fall that will split the $20 billion cost, with Washington contributing half and the two states paying the rest.
One of the largest projects is the $29 billion MTA redo, which redesigns 30 subway stations, replaces aging subway cars and buses and installs new signaling and control equipment. The state will put $8.3 billion, New York City will pay $2.5 billion, the federal government will chip in $6.4 billion and tolls and fares will cover the rest.
“His policy seems to be: announce big, new, flashy stuff while maintaining the pretense that it’s not going to cost anything,” said E.J. McMahon, president at the Empire Center for Public Policy. “The biggest single state-funded capital improvement, and it’s not even in there. You either appropriate the money or you don’t. … He’s Rockefeller on the cheap.”
Cuomo vows to make his wish list happen, pointing to the new Tappan Zee Bridge going up — after decades of talk — as proof he can get it done.
“Not only is this a plan and a vision, but it is going to happen,” he said. “Government has gotten too good at announcing plans that never actually materialize. I am in the opposite business.”