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Joseph Wisinski, president of the New York State County Highway Superintendents Association, urged the New York State Legislature on Tuesday to restore cuts in highway funding made in the 2020-21 state budget to the proposed 2021-22 spending plan, and to add highway crews to the phase 1B eligibility list for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The 2020-21 budget cut appropriations for local highway programs by 20%, or $120.6 million, and 2020 funding allocation notices to local highway departments were not sent until 69 days after the budget was adopted in April.
Wisinski, who is also Madison County highway superintendent, addressed a joint hearing of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and the Assembly Standing Committee on Ways and Means.
“Many municipalities could not go forward and plan their highway programs with the uncertainty of full reimbursement from the state,” Wisinski said. “With only 80% of our CHIPS (Consolidated Local Highway Improvement Program), PAVE-NY and EWR (Extreme Winter Recovery) funds available, our local transportation capital programs, which were already underfunded, were reduced even further. As a result, we saw a reduction in local construction jobs, and we all know that work delayed will cost much more later.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected local highway departments’ finances. Wisinski said, “We adhere to and follow all current public health policies to minimize the spread; however, despite our best efforts, we continue to be short staffed with people out for positive cases or quarantine. Costs for cleaning and sanitizing vehicles and equipment, social distancing and masks all continue to strain our local budgets.”
For this reason, he said, “We request that our highway crews be added to the phase 1B COVID eligibility list.”
In addition, he said, “Counties have seen a massive drop in sales tax collections and state aid, and while counties do all they can to manage highway infrastructure funding at the local level, they are often operating with their hands tied behind their backs and not able to make up losses in highway funding.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2021-22 budget proposes a 15% repayment for local programs that were cut.
“Five percent will be a permanent cut for unknown reasons,” Wisinski said.
In addition, CHIPS funding would be flat for the ninth year, no increases are proposed for the PAVE-NY and BRIDGE-NY program, and the EWR program would not be carried forward.
NYSCHSA is calling for 100% of the cuts to highway funding to be restored, the appropriations proposed in the 2021-22 budget to be fully funded, the EWR appropriation to be increased to $100 million, and protection against local highway program cuts to be included in the budget.
“Local roads and bridges, as you know, make up the bulk of the statewide system,” Wisinski said. “Eighty-seven percent of New York’s roads and over half the bridges are owned by local governments. Our crews are plowing county roads as well as many state-owned highways to assure safe winter travel. Local roads are essential. … Motorists need to get to and from their jobs, homes, schools, hospitals and other destinations.”
The New York State County Highway Superintendents Association is a nonprofit organization whose county superintendents, public works commissioners and affiliate members are dedicated to promoting and maintaining a safe and efficient county transportation system. More information is available at https://countyhwys.org/.