Thursday, December 31, 2009

New York Needs Billions To Update Water Treatment Facilities

New York State remains in dire fiscal shape. It is ending the year with a deficit in its general fund for the first time in the state's history- $174 million, and several other funds are on the verge of insolvency, despite a state budget that dwarfs all others in the nation save California. The state also has more than $1 billion in obligations to pay, but no money to pay for them.
After months of plunging revenues and weeks of budget battles, New York had a negative balance of $174 million in its general fund on Wednesday, with nearly $1 billion in bills owed by day’s end. Every sign pointed to the account’s still being in the hole when 2010 begins. To fill the gap, New York will be forced to rely on its own version of overdraft protection by raiding its short-term investment pool — a kind of statewide checking account. But that account itself is dangerously low, with only about $800 million on hand, compared with a balance in more flush years of as much as $16 billion.

And the lower the short-term balance falls, the harder it is for the state to cover its day-to-day bills and the closer New York moves toward a previously unimaginable eventuality: A government check that bounces.

“New York State is officially living paycheck to paycheck,” said Thomas P. DiNapoli, the state comptroller, whose responsibilities include managing New York’s finances. “The state is starting the new year by scrambling to make payments and juggle money.”
With that as a backdrop, the state is clamoring for assistance to help deal with its crumbling infrastructure. There are 30,000 miles of sewers and water distribution systems that need repairs and upgrades, and the state has no money and no willpower to make it happen.

So, despite multiple New York Times (reported here and here) articles complaining that the federal government has let water quality standards slip, states and localities simply lack the money to make the qualitative and quantitative improvements to their water infrastructure, which is a most basic and essential service. The states and localities spending priorities are not on basic infrastructure, despite that being an essential portion of what states and localities are supposed to be providing as services to their residents.

New York needs to spend more than $36 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade its water and sewer systems, yet the state has a fraction of that amount available to fund a handful of projects in any given year.
Total spending in 2009 on wastewater infrastructure in New York was $1 billion. That will be down to $700 million in 2010.

The state has more than 600 applications for wastewater projects around the state for 2010, but depending on the size and cost of those selected, officials anticipate funding only between 70 and 80 projects.
There is no way the state can ever get caught up on its obligations to bring the state into compliance with current water quality requirements, and it speaks volumes to the priorities of the state for years on end that it fails to properly fund essential obligations like providing for clean water and proper sanitary waste disposal systems.

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