Volume 78 - Number 43 / April 01 -07, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Road to recovery: Transportation

As Albany muddles through, apparently close to funding the M.T.A., it’s clear that they have little idea as to the enormous payoffs transportation investments bring. Government should be much bolder, farsighted and generous when it comes to public transportation. State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith’s failure to get bridge tolls passed was just the latest evidence of the problem.

In Washington, President Obama had to fight to add a little more transportation money to his recovery package; but a forward-thinking Congress would have realized that mass transportation allocations should be funded in chunks of $20 billion. It’s hard to think of a better way to stimulate the economy than mass transit. It leads to short-term construction jobs and long-term economic growth.

As opposed to targeted tax breaks for specific corporate giants, transportation funding helps everyone, from restaurant waiters who can get to work quicker and make more in tips because, all of a sudden, more high-paid workers are eating in their restaurants, to the C.E.O.’s who can attract more workers.

In this financial crisis and with these budget deficits, it is hard to think big, but we see way too much timidity, particularly in Albany. We know it is not possible now for the state to make large new expenditures, but the bond market won’t be in the tank forever, and the mind-set Upstate is a much bigger obstacle than the economy. More than a century ago, New York City built what is still the largest subway system in the world. Is there anyone in power now who could get something one-tenth that size built today?

It’s not in politicians’ DNA to think much beyond the next election, but we’d all be a lot better off if they thought about what their great-grandchildren will say about them in the 22nd century.

Governors Island’s future 

And speaking of the mess in Albany, although Governors Island received enough funding to reopen this spring, the last-minute budget skirmish suggests there is a better way to fund this jewel in Lower Manhattan’s harbor.

Last year, the state stiffed the island — but Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation officials were able to keep the parks and ferries running with surplus revenue. The expanded events and programs drew 130,000 people in 2008, doubling visits to the island for the second straight year.

The state and city have shared GIPEC island funding until now. Last year’s city allocation of $8 million for the island sat unused because the state never came up with the matching funds. Mayor Bloomberg says he wants to take over the state’s burden in exchange for getting full responsibility over the island. It sounds like a good idea to us. We can’t expect Rochester or Montauk to care about funding Governors Island. This year’s state funding never would have been possible without the sustained pressure from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Mayor Bloomberg.

Losing the island’s momentum would have been a disaster. It’s been hard enough convincing potential tenants to use some of the island’s historic buildings without adding annual budget uncertainty to the mix. The mayor says he has unused money for other state-city efforts — like expanding the Javits Center — and can make things happen with more control, and the idea deserves serious consideration. Albany clearly can’t handle all that’s on its plate, and would be better off with one less burden.

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