Senator O'Mara raises questions on Governor Cuomo's proposed state budget for transportation as legislative budget hearings get underway in Albany (UPDATED, January 21: New study shows bad roads cost NY drivers nearly $25 billion a year)

Albany, N.Y., January 20—State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, today joined his Senate and Assembly colleagues on the Legislature’s fiscal committees at a joint, public hearing to examine Governor Andrew Cuomo’s state budget proposals for transportation.

Today’s hearing in the Legislative Office Building represented the first in a series of public reviews of Cuomo’s 2016-17 budget plan being conducted by the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.  The hearings will continue through early February.

In addition to serving on the Finance Committee, O’Mara is also a member of the Senate Transportation Committee.  At today’s hearing, O’Mara questioned state Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Matthew Driscoll on several issues including, most prominently, whether the Cuomo plan achieves parity between funding levels for upstate roads and bridges, and downstate mass transit.  O’Mara stressed that while the governor has proposed approximately $22 billion for roads and bridges, while the funding level for downstate mass transit through the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has been set at roughly $26 billion.

O’Mara also questioned Driscoll [WATCH VIDEO ABOVE] on the following issues:

> the governor’s proposed funding for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) – the primary source of direct state funding for local roads and bridges -- which Cuomo proposes to remain unchanged from last year’s level of $438.1 million. For the past three years, O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) have led a bipartisan group of state legislators in the Senate and Assembly, together with county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders from across New York, to call for increased state support for local roads, bridges and culverts through the CHIPS program.  During this time, beginning with the 2013-2014 state budget, CHIPS funding has been increased by approximately $125 million to the current overall level of $488.1 million.  Driscoll responded to O’Mara that this year’s DOT budget proposes to create two new programs – “Bridge NY” and “Pave NY” – each of which calls for $500 million in additional funding for local roads and bridges to supplement CHIPS funding.  “Bridge NY” funding would be distributed on a competitive basis, while “Pave NY” would be distributed to localities through a formula that Driscoll said is still being developed;

> the future of rural public transit systems, on which O’Mara has led the fight in the Legislature over the past several years, sponsoring legislation and holding public hearings particularly concerning Non-emergency Medicaid Transportation (NEMT) being shifted from public transit to taxis, a move which has detrimentally impacted the viability of many rural transit systems; and

> DOT’s utilization of funding from the state’s Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund.  Specifically transportation advocates including the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways (NYSAOTSOH) and the State County Highway Superintendents Association (NYSCHSA) argue that the state collects approximately $6.2 billion in motorist-related taxes and fees annually, but only $2.2 billion of this amount is dedicated to capital improvements to the state’s highways and bridges. They estimate that nearly $4 billion that the state annually collects in motorist fees and taxes, which are supposed to be kept in the state’s Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund, are being diverted to other, non-transportation related purposes.

“We heard at today’s hearing the range and the complexity of the challenges facing New York State in this issue area,” said O’Mara.  “So I appreciated this chance to directly question, and to receive and request further input from the Cuomo administration.  I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to try to ensure that the new state budget addresses the state’s transportation concerns, particularly upstate, adequately, effectively and fairly. These challenges and issues are vital to motorist safety, the quality of our local communities, and the economic well-being of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions and the state as a whole.”

[UPDATED, January 21: A new study released today estimates that bad roads cost New Yorkers "$24.9 billion a year in higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays."  Read more in today's Elmira Star-Gazette, "Your cost for bad roads: $1,406 a year" .  Find the full TRIP study here.]