One of the most expansive and expensive challenges facing the United States is our aging infrastructure. According to a May 22, 2019 CBS News MoneyWatch report, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 2017 gave America’s infrastructure a D+, describing investment as “woefully inadequate.” ASCE estimated a complete infrastructure overhaul would cost $2 trillion, or about 0.8 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, over 10 years.
Closer to home, the NCVOA has been advocating for years for adequate funds to meet our infrastructure needs. In 2014, NCVOA President Peter Cavallaro wrote the following editorial addressing infrastructure responsibility:
Maintaining a Reliable Infrastructure is a Shared Responsibility
by Peter Cavallaro, Mayor of the Village of Westbury and President of the Nassau County Village Officials Association
In his recent LI Business News Viewpoint article — Survey blasts local leaders’ road records — Marc Herbst, Executive Director of the Long Island Contractor’s Association, commented on the results of a survey his organization commissioned to gauge Long Islanders’ opinions about the condition of the Island’s roadways and infrastructure. According to Mr. Herbst, a substantial percent of survey respondents believe roads and infrastructure are essential services of local government, and 65% would consider voting against an elected official who intentionally does not repair roads.
As a native Long Islander, I know how important a sound infrastructure is to all of us. In my current role as Mayor of the Village of Westbury and President of the Nassau County Village Officials Association, I know of no elected official who intentionally would not repair a damaged road. American author Arnold Glasgow once said, “The fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion.” I believe the opinions expressed in the survey are based on perceptions and I think it helpful if we considered some important contributing factors affecting our aging infrastructure.
NYS Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli outlined some of these factors when he released last month the results of his office’s study entitled — Growing Cracks in the Foundation: Local Governments Still Challenged to Keep Up with Vital Infrastructure Needs. The report finds local government capital spending on roads, bridges and water and sewer systems declining by approximately 8% between 2010 and 2012. The Comptroller’s office estimates municipalities should be spending about $3.9 billion annually to keep up with deteriorating capital assets but are only spending roughly $1.2 billion – less than a third of what is necessary. According to the report: “Local governments must balance the need to invest in infrastructure with other spending priorities, while operating within constraints on available resources that include generally low growth in local tax bases as well as the State-imposed property tax cap. New York has sustained heavy damage from three major storms in recent years, Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and Super Storm Sandy. Local government officials have reported that revenues have not kept pace with increasing costs, indicating they cannot complete the annual number of infrastructure projects necessary due to funding constraints.
“With limited resources at their disposal, local governments need effective capital planning strategies to ensure the most cost-effective use of public funds. Such strategies should ensure that localities are able to shift their emphasis from reacting to short-term or emergency infrastructure needs to being proactive and planning for the future. Fixing potholes and broken water mains are essential activities. But, if the majority of available government spending addresses short-term problems such as these, local governments may not be able to provide the infrastructure required to support and grow their communities for the future.”
Comptroller DiNapoli says state lawmakers and local government officials must work together in addressing critical infrastructure needs. State agencies such as the Departments of Transportation, Environmental Control, and Health can play a critical role by creating and maintaining comprehensive, detailed assessments of major infrastructure assets at the local and state levels. These departments have produced studies but not in recent years. DiNapoli also points out that “local governments need to develop long term plans to assess and prioritize actual needs, and look for ways to pay for these improvements under various scenarios of potential federal and State aid.”
The report clearly outlines the challenges facing local governments and offers the following recommendations on how state policy makers and local government officials could work together in addressing this critical issue:
- Strengthen Capital Planning – The State should establish a Capital Asset/Infrastructure Council, with comprehensive long and short term capital planning milestones as called for in the Comptroller’s 2013 Fiscal Reform Act. Local officials should identify both their long-term and short-term infrastructure needs and work with the applicable State agencies to coordinate their approach to appropriately address these needs, adopt comprehensive capital plans and commit to funding the plans.
- Seek Increased Federal Funding – State policy makers should work with the federal government to develop strategies to provide additional funding for water, sewer and transportation systems.
- Utilize Federal and State Grant Funding – State and federal agencies have grant programs and other services that can assist local governments with infrastructure improvement projects and planning. Local governments should seek out additional grant funding and State and federal expertise as a component of their capital planning process.
- Explore Public-Private Partnerships – Local policymakers should explore the potential of Public-Private Partnerships to address some infrastructure needs; however, they must proceed cautiously to ensure a clear understanding of the potential benefits and costs of these projects before taking any action.
Creating and implementing sound and cost-effective capital planning strategies to successfully maintain our state’s roadways and infrastructure is a shared responsibility. Local governments and New York State must work collaboratively to ensure this important initiative is achieved.