$35 Billion Up in the Smoke Filled, Backroom Air
October 17th, 2007

Steve Levy, the Suffolk County Executive, might be noticed outside of his county lately for being a Democrat breaking ranks with the governor over his plan to allow illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. But he’s also at the center of a less noticed dispute that is holding up $35 billion dollars in federal transportation funds for the metro region.

The cause for delay has apparently been an unrelated dispute between the county executive and the State Assembly. Levy is seeking approval for a one percent sales tax increase from the state, which has been blocked by the Assembly’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, who wants Levy to support a day laborer hiring hall.

On September 27, representatives from each district in the region gathered for a vote on the five year plan, called the Transportation Improvement Program, but Levy failed to show and the vote was postponed indefinitely. Each representative holds veto power over the plan, and it was rumored that Levy might use that power. Instead, he just didn’t appear, and the vote was put off while the matter is resolved behind closed doors.

George Haikalas, president of the Institute for Rational Mobility, attended the meeting and said the postponement – and lack of explanation why – was “an insult to the people at the table.”

“There is no example for this!” he continued.

Observers have said that the veto power is a double edged sword that ensures smaller counties have a say, but one that can lead to rare incidences like this.

“It’s good because it provides a regional consensus on transportation priorities, but it’s bad because one person can hold up $35 billion for whatever reason,” said Kate Slevin, the executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Some of the projects around the city (just to name a few) that would have received funding include improvements to “The Hub” in the Bronx, a traffic calming plan for Downtown Brooklyn, reconstruction for the Kew Garden Interchange in Queens, reconstruction of the St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island, and improvements to Times Square.

The funds in question are separate from the funds attached to the mayor’s congestion pricing proposal.

Frank Nardelli, a Suffolk County executive assistant, connected the tax increase with the transportation funding, saying, “We think it is important that more money comes to Long Island in this multi-billion dollar process. Certainly, our ability to be parties to the long-term capital infrastructure plans would be hampered if we were brought to the brink of fiscal insolvency because the sales tax situation in Albany could not be resolved.”

An aid to Brooklyn Assemblymember Darryl Towns, one of the caucus members to vote against the tax increase, said the hiring center was indeed the reason he voted against it, but broadened his concerns to “supporting immigrant workers” generally.

By on October 17, 2007, 9:27 am
In category: Public Finance,Transportation | 2 Comments »

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2 Responses to “$35 Billion Up in the Smoke Filled, Backroom Air”

  1. Streetsblog » Today’s Headlines Says:
    October 18th, 2007 at 7:49 am

    […] Plan Short on Alternatives to Driving (Riverdale Press)Anger and Frustration Over $35B TIP Delay (Wonkster)John Liu Proposes New Idling Law (Sun)Times Square Pedestrian Case Goes to Court of Appeals […]

  2. Gotham Gazette - The Wonkster » Blog Archive » Mapping Out Future Transportation Improvements Says:
    December 6th, 2007 at 10:04 am

    […] necessary backroom deals have been made, and $35 billion in federal transportation funding for the metro region is back on […]

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