Five Questions from Times-Union About Clean Water Raid


Reinvent Albany is part of a coalition of environmental and good government groups that opposes Governor Cuomo’s attempt to use State Clean Water State Revolving Fund money to pay for the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge. ( Reinvent Albany is involved as part of our ongoing advocacy to keep dedicated funds spent for their intended purpose. ) There have been eight newspaper editorials opposing or questioning the raid on Clean Water Funds. Today’s from the Albany Times Union calls on the state Public Authorities Board to ask five questions before approving the raid.

Times Union Editorial
July 16, 2014

The Cuomo administration wants to borrow environmental funds to help build a bridge.

It’s fair to ask if this is an appropriate use of the money and how it will affect taxpayers and motorists.

The Cuomo administration had a flip response for Assemblyman Tom Abinanti when he dared question the use of $511 million in clean water funds to help pay for a replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge. Rather than address the issue directly, a spokesman for the Thruway Authority declared that the Democrat from Greenburgh “must also be in favor of higher tolls.”

It was right up there with the sardonic “Why do you hate freedom?” retort that made the rounds during the Iraq War, when anyone who questioned the conflict — today widely viewed as an unnecessary and costly adventure — was subject to having their patriotism questioned. In this case, it’s a transparent attempt by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and the Thruway Authority to change the subject — though, curiously, to another topic they don’t want to discuss, namely, bridge tolls.

Yet perhaps the administration will not be so contemptuous or evasive when it goes Wednesday before the state’s Public Authorities Control Board, which will consider whether the Environmental Facilities Corp. should loan more than a half-billion dollars to the Thruway Authority.

Here, then, are five questions a board that is supposed to be looking out for the public’s interest should demand answers to:

1. Is this what the Environmental Facilities Corp. is for? The EFC normally deals with such things as clean water and drinking water projects, solid waste disposal, and sewage treatment. While the state says the funding would help the bridge project be more environmentally friendly, is loaning this money mainly to build a bridge in line with EFC’s mission?

2. Would this loan endanger federal funds? The EFC depends on annual federal grants. The state has been trying to persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that, with a more than $600 million surplus on hand because communities haven’t been borrowing the money, this is a good use for the unspent money.

3. Why aren’t communities tapping these funds? Is it just the current economic climate and tight budgets? Or has the state made it more difficult to get EFC funds? Have state policies forced communities to tighten their belts so much that they can’t take on even no-interest loans for much-needed pollution projects?

4. Where is the money coming from to repay the loan? Any lender would insist on knowing this.

5. How will this affect tolls or taxes? The Cuomo administration and the Thruway Authority say this will keep tolls down, but they refuse to show hard numbers. What would the bridge tolls be, with and without the funding? How might tolls or even taxes figure in?

If cogent, comprehensive answers aren’t forthcoming from the administration, the EFC, and the authority, here’s one more entirely fair question to ask: Why do you hate sunshine?