The governor’s illegal, unnecessary, and now-infamous highway road signs are no longer merely a point of controversy. They are now costing New York millions in funding during one of the tightest budget years in recent memory. Since 2013, Gov. Cuomo has ignored Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) guidelines by orchestrating the installation of more than 500 “I Love NY” highway signs, despite explicitly being denied permission. The inevitable consequences of his arrogance were delivered last week.
FHWA Acting Administrator Brandye Hendrickson wrote to state officials, stating, “FHWA may take action, including withholding funds, if a state fails to comply with Federal requirements. Because of the installation of more than 500 non-compliant signs and repeated notification to remove these installations, the FHWA will assess initial penalties for non-compliance immediately.”
The agency will withhold $14 million in federal funds from New York as a penalty for the persistent non-compliance. If the signs are removed by September 30, 2018, FHWA will reinstate the funding.
A BAD PLAN FROM THE START
The signs cost more than $8 million to create and install, which turned out to be quadruple the amount the state Department of Transportation originally reported. The governor effectively wasted more than $22 million of taxpayer money. At a time when every dollar of federal funding is critical, especially with respect to New York’s failing infrastructure, this egregious display of incompetence is simply unacceptable.
As has become the norm for this administration, the signs put political ambition before people. Some of the signs were installed with “emergency contracts,” at great overtime costs to taxpayers, to ensure they were in place before the July 4th holiday weekend. While promoting tourism is laudable, it can hardly be compared to the immediate road repairs those contracts normally address. Further, some of the signs were made in Arkansas, which means New York tax money, used on signs promoting New York, was spent halfway across the county. From the start, the plan was as illogical as it is illegal.
EVERY DOLLAR COUNTS
The state Department of Transportation and state Thruway Authority both issued the predictably say-nothing response, admitting no wrongdoing and failing to address the issue directly. But they have been put on notice. Not only are federal regulators watching, the taxpaying public will be paying strict attention as well.
New York is facing a $4.4 billion budget deficit. Our infrastructure is far behind acceptable standards. If the governor refuses to propose spending reductions—he has made almost no mention of ways to cut costs as we approach the budget deadline—the least he can do is ensure we get the money we deserve. Jeopardizing federal funds, to the tune of $14 million no less, is irresponsible and irrational.
What do you think? I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York State. You can always contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, find me by searching for Assemblyman Brian Kolb on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter.