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PEF weighs in on state transportation budget

By KATE MOSTACCIO

New York is facing a massive budget shortfall and a deadly pandemic, facts that PEF Regional Coordinator Andrew Puleo pointed to in written testimony urging state leaders to carefully assess capital projects, implement a tax on the uber-wealthy, and revamp the design-build system, among other key issues, during his testimony before a joint budget hearing on the 2021-2022 Executive Budget Proposal on Transportation.

“While PEF supports the need for continued funding to improve the state’s infrastructure, we have serious concerns with the prioritization of many of these initiatives over the proposed funding cuts to state agencies, the diminution of services to the state’s most at-risk residents, the continued reduction in the state workforce, the continued lack of transparency and oversight on agencies who use taxpayer dollars to hire private service contractors and the lack of public oversight on taxpayer funded public works projects,” Puleo said.

PEF supports investing in state and local bridges, non-MTA transit, pedestrian and bike facilities, rail and aviation improvements and expediting a transition to a greener economy – but called into question the timing of such projects.

PEF Regional Coordinator Andrew Puleo

“We are in the midst of a deadly pandemic where thousands of residents have already lost their jobs, homes, health care and too many have lost their lives,” Puleo said. “The massive increase in capital spending proposed in this budget dramatically increases the state’s out-year debt load while proposing to close a projected $15 billion operating budget gap by cutting and privatizing the state’s mental health services; closing at-risk youth and prison facilities; consolidating agencies and programs; and cutting the earned health insurance benefits of the very public employees characterized as heroes for the past 12 months.”

Puleo urged the panel to consider supporting a slight increase to taxes paid by multi-millionaires and billionaires.

“If enacted, a package of small, progressive state taxes on the incomes of uber-wealthy New Yorkers could generate substantial and recurring resources,” he said. “New York is at a critical juncture given the revenue shortfall and the increasing expenses needed to fight the coronavirus and distribute the vaccine efficiently and immediately. The Executive Budget proposes to balance the state’s budget deficit on the backs of the hard-working state employees who have served on the frontlines during this pandemic.

PEF endorses legislation to require evaluation of current private service contracts; require cost-benefit analysis for all future private service contracts; require agency disclosure of outside service contract needs; and require taxpayer representation on all taxpayer-funded projects.

“This year’s Executive Budget proposes to reduce the state workforce by an additional 830 staff,” Puleo said. “Despite chronic understaffing, forced redeployments, mandated overtime and concerns over infecting family members, the state workforce continued to show up and get the job done during the pandemic. The state of New York should be looking to develop its workforce capacity and to supplement its services, not outsourcing programs and cutting competitive civil service positions.”

To read the full written testimony, click here.