State's Capital Plan needs more detail, says watchdog group

Sep 27, 2013

A budget watchdog group says New York’s new 10 year plan of how it will spend more than $174 billion in road, bridge and numerous other projects lacks transparency and needs more details on how it will all be paid for.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, for the first time, has compiled a list of all the state improvement projects anticipated for the next 10 years, for a total estimated cost of $174.4 billion.

A press release issued earlier this year billed the new Capital Plan as an achievement that modernizes and rebuilds the state’s infrastructure, grows the economy and creates jobs.

A budget watchdog group says Cuomo deserves credit for taking the first step to outline New York’s future needs. Elizabeth Lynam, with Citizens Budget Commission, calls it an encouraging and promising beginning.

The report breaks down $113 billion in transportation spending, $17 billion for investments in schools and universities, and $7 billion for the environment, among other categories. The plan states goals ranging from road and bridge repair to ensuring clean drinking water. But Lynam says some key details are missing. She says the plan does not spell out specific projects or describe how they will be paid for.  

“Are we going to go to the bond markets and finance it, are we going to do more cash pay-as-you-go capital,” Lynam asked. “What are the sources of support?”

Some of the projects rely on user fees like Thruway tolls, water bills and park admission fees. Lynam says the ten year plan does not address whether those fees will bring in enough or might have to be raised.

The plan does list the total debt, around $124 billion, already owed by various state financing agencies like the Dormitory Authority and Economic Development Authority. But Lynam says it fails to assess whether taxpayers can afford the new plan going forward, in a continued weak economy.

“We need to project that debt forward, and project those sources of funding forward,” said Lynam. “And really take a look at whether that’s affordable overall for all New Yorkers.”

The task force that put together the Capital Plan acknowledges in its report that more work needs to be done and says it plans improvements, noting future iterations of the statewide Capital Plan will have more extensive discussion of capital program financing.