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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"What dedicated highway fund?"

ALBANY, Oct. 25 -- From time to time in this column, whenever they become available, I like to share the results of the latest survey or study conducted by the various groups and organizations with a finger on the pulse of the nation’s employers – reports that can sometimes help illuminate what America’s leaders in business and industry are thinking and doing.

These reports are valuable for any number of reasons, and they can mean different things to different people. But for the purposes of local economic development, I think they’re useful for the insights they offer into what’s on the minds of some of the world’s most dynamic job creators.
Why does one corporate executive, for example, choose a particular region or state over another when deciding where to build a new business or industry, or expand existing ones?

Inevitably what you find if you pay attention are the same priorities rising to the surface time after time. The tax and regulatory climate. The demographics of the available work force. The quality of the educational system, including the availability of higher education.

Over and over, the quality of a region’s infrastructure earns a leading spot on the list, too. In fact, infrastructure can often be the deciding factor in the job creation decisions that have become so
competitive and so desired here at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century.

All this came to mind following a flurry of recent reports on the condition of the nation’s and New York’s state roads and bridges. And it stands as a critical reminder that the short- and long-term future of New York’s infrastructure deserves to remain in the forefront of the state’s to-do list.

One report from the state comptroller estimates that over the next 20 years, New York is going to need $250 billion to maintain its transportation, sewer and water systems. According to the state Department of Transportation, about 12 percent of New York’s bridges are structurally deficient while approximately 25 percent are functionally obsolete -- meaning, in other words, they’ve outlived their usefulness.

Of course it’s an infrastructure crisis that’s been building for a long time now and, it’s worth recalling, was the motivating factor behind the creation of the state’s Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund back in 1991. That’s right, state leaders had the foresight 20 years ago to look
far down the road, so to speak, anticipate the demands and, wisely, put in place a dedicated revenue stream that was supposed to guarantee a steady source of funding solely for the reconstruction, replacement, reconditioning and preservation of the state’s highways and bridges.

The problem is that somewhere along the way over the past two decades a few holes were punched out of this so-called “locked box” of highway-and-bridge funding, so that here in 2011 the fund is being tapped for purposes, in my view, far removed from highway and bridge maintenance and improvement. One news report last week noted that more than a third of the fund’s annual $3.5-billion allocation goes to the state Department of Motor Vehicles for salaries and other administrative and operating costs, as well as for state Department of Transportation snow and ice removal. That same article also stated that more money from the fund is allocated to
pay debt on old road projects than to undertake new ones.

It’s yet another example of a failure to abide by strict priorities and remain focused on fundamental governmental responsibilities. In other words, another failure of government to remain true to its original intent, to live up to its word.

It has to stop. So as we rapidly approach the start of the 2012 legislative session, this issue demands attention. Earlier this year the Senate unanimously approved legislation to ensure that funding from the Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund would only be used for its original
intent. No more taking from the fund to pay salaries or administrative expenses. In other words, let’s restore the fund to its intended purpose – the reconstruction, replacement, reconditioning and preservation of highways and bridges. Period. This legislation should become law next year. It would put in place yet another key piece of the puzzle of rebuilding and remaking New York.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara


Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967

Doris L. Karius, 546-5544

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869