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Norris & Morinello on why infrastructure must be a top priority in this budget


Fri, Feb 16th 2024 12:15 pm

Legislative column from Assemblymen Mike Norris (R-C-Lockport) and Angelo Morinello (R-C-Niagara Falls) 

Having safe roads, bridges, sewers and culverts is essential to public safety and to our economy. Not only does having our infrastructure well maintained ensure people can get to work and their appointments safely and on time, run their errands and deliver their children to school, but it also ensures the food, goods and services we all need and rely on can easily and readily be accessible. Well-maintained infrastructure protects us against emergencies and can lessen the response time in emergency situations as well. It is essential.

Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, funding for our local infrastructure – through the program known as the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) – was basically held flat. In fact, during his decade as governor, Cuomo held funding flat for CHIPS except for one increase in fiscal year 2013-14.

That was until we worked together with our partners in the highway department here in Western New York, held rallies with our colleagues at the State Capitol and throughout the state, and sent a loud and clear message that local infrastructure matters and is essential. Finally, in fiscal year 2021-22, we succeeded in delivering a historic $100 million increase for CHIPS, and $60 million more in 2023-24.

While this funding increase was well-needed, well-deserved and much-appreciated in our local communities, when you are talking about a state budget that spends hundreds of billions of dollars annually, this funding is simply a drop in the bucket.

Though this funding increase was good news, we all know it wasn’t enough. New York is famous for its pothole problem, coupled with years of difficult winters plus the occurrence of natural disasters across our state. Here in Western New York, we faced extreme flooding along Lake Ontario’s southern shore, but so many communities in our state have been impacted by similar events of their own.

Add to that the crushing burden of inflation. As the rising costs of diesel and gasoline, salt, maintenance and repairs, labor costs and more strain our local highway crews, the less they can accomplish – and the less our tax dollars stretch when it comes to the actual repairs we need.

This is why we are disappointed and surprised that Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed to eliminate the $60 million CHIPS increase while at the same time handing out billions in taxpayer dollars to illegal aliens.

We don’t accept that. We want this budget to get back to basics, and we should be investing in services that help everyone, like our infrastructure. Everyone benefits from having safe roads and bridges, drinking water, and clear sewer and drainage systems. They are essential. We’re calling on the governor to change course and to reconsider her priorities.

As we all know, budgets are about priorities. Our priority in representing you is ensuring Western New York is a safe place to live and do business. That starts with good infrastructure, and this is why we’re asking for a full restoration of CHIPS funding as well as an additional $200 million investment in this budget to position our communities with the resources they need to maintain our infrastructure, help us sustain and grow our economy, and ensure public safety for years to come.

Assemblymen Norris and Morinello represent the 144th and 145th Assembly districts, respectively, which include portions of Erie and Niagara counties. Norris also serves as the chairman of the Assembly minority conference and as the ranking member of the Assembly Transportation Committee. Morinello is the ranking member of the Assembly Codes Committee.

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