In the News  Archive

How to Spend New York's Spare $5 Billion

The New York Times - Editorial
Jan. 15, 2015

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Here’s a scary thought: New York State’s politicians suddenly have an extra $5 billion to spend. Albany’s treasury is fat with the state’s share of fines paid by financial institutions for past misconduct. And in all but a few cases, there are no real strings attached. So the scrum has started, with virtually every politician and interest group and government entity scrambling for a share of the windfall.

As state lawmakers start working on a new budget next week, this bonus should not be wasted on politicians’ pet projects. Nor should it be used for tax cuts or recurring operating expenses. Nor should it disappear into the cavernous state budget. Instead,
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders should devote it to carefully chosen, one-time investments that help all New Yorkers.

Here are a few better ideas:

• New York needs $22 billion over the next 20 years to build better drinking-water facilities, and an additional $29.7 billion for wastewater infrastructure, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. A drop here or there could help.

• The Metropolitan Transportation Authority faces a $15 billion deficit in its five-year capital plan. Even a modest transfusion could benefit the system’s 8.7 million daily riders.

• Nearly a quarter of the state’s major roads are in poor condition, and thousands of older bridges need repairs.

• Farmland could be bought or protected, especially in the upper Hudson region.

• And if Albany runs out of ideas, some of the money could be put away for leaner times.

The $5 billion comes from banks and insurance groups that have been fined for various transgressions — irresponsible peddling of mortgage-backed securities, helping Americans avoid taxes or illegally doing business with countries facing sanctions. The fines have been divided among various entities, including the federal government, with $5 billion flowing to New York.

That is a hefty sum. But in Albany hefty sums can disappear quickly, especially if indiscriminately applied to broad tax relief or ongoing programs. That’s why the money should be used for focused, one-shot investments that can bring tangible relief to as many New Yorkers as possible.

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