November 11th, 2009
State Agencies Pilfer Highway and Bridge Funds
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli
By Thomas DiNapoli
New York State’s Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund hasn’t been all that dedicated. Since 1991, only 34.9 percent of the money in the fund went directly toward the repair and improvement of the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges. And over the next four years, that will shrink to about one fifth. It’s supposed to be a “locked box,” but apparently the lock wasn’t very strong.
If only one-third of the money in the Highway and Bridge Trust Fund has actually been used to pay for highways and bridges, the question, is, where did the money go? The answer is that nearly two thirds of fund has been siphoned off to pay for debt service on back-door borrowing and to fund operational costs for the DMV and the state Department of Transportation.
This money should be going toward keeping our roads and bridges safe, not to fund state agency operations. The bridge closing in Crown Point is just one more example of why this is so important. Using this dedicated capital money to pay for operations and debt service is just one more gimmick on the list of New York’s bad fiscal choices.
The Trust Fund was created in 1991 to fund the construction and rehabilitation of state-owned roads and bridges. But starting in FY 1994-95, the Trust Fund paid debt service for bonds that were issued by the Thruway Authority and never approved by voters. Operational revenue and spending were also added to the Trust Fund.
When New Yorkers fill up their gas tanks, a portion of the gas taxes we pay is supposed to be dedicated to fixing roads and bridges. It’s supposed to go into the “locked box.” But the shell game called the state budget has reshuffled the Trust Fund into just another smoke and mirror trick to cover budget shortfalls. New Yorkers deserve better. They need honest numbers and real accounting for their tax dollars.
When the state dedicates money for a specific purpose, that money should stay dedicated. It’s a trust fund. Let’s restore a little of taxpayers trust and use the Dedicated Highway Bridge and Trust Fund the right way – to keep our roads and bridges safe for New York families.