Home / Opinion / Editorial / The $5 billion question

The $5 billion question

As the 2015 legislative session begins in Albany, lawmakers are faced with what many no doubt see as a happy problem: how to spend $5 billion.

The money is a windfall from settlements with financial institutions and insurers accused of violating state and federal laws. New York has known since summer, when it reached a more than $3 billion settlement with BNP Paribas S.A., that big bucks were headed its way. By November, the total had reached $5.1 billion.

Legislators who have grown accustomed to year after year of multibillion-dollar deficits requiring painful decisions surely will be eager to allocate this windfall. It’s equally likely they will be pressured by a multitude of interest groups seeking part of the bounty.

It’s important, then, to be clear about how the money should—and should not—be spent.

The big “not”: Do not throw the money at things that will need ongoing funding after the onetime bonus is gone.

As Richard Brodsky, a liberal former assemblyman, and E.J. McMahon, the conservative president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, wrote in an op-ed after the BNP Paribas settlement was announced: “Never use an occasional windfall to pay for ongoing programs or tax cuts that will need new cash when the windfall is exhausted.”

Instead, use the money to fund long-needed capital investments.

No. 1 on the list should be the state’s transportation infrastructure. Everyone agrees that New York’s roads and bridges are in a sorry state, and this is a golden opportunity to do something about it.

In its 2015 policy agenda, Unshackle Upstate lists infrastructure investment as a top priority. The coalition supports the proposed creation of a $3.5 billion infrastructure bank to fund projects awarded through a regional process that identifies the most critical needs. This seems like a sound idea, but others can be considered too.

New York is unlikely to have another chance like this any time soon. Albany needs to get it right.

1/9/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


Check Also

Main Street in Fairport has been closed to through traffic since September to allow for work on the iconic Lift Bridge. (Matt Wittmeyer)

Fairport businesses surviving despite dual impact of pandemic, bridge closure (access required)

Despite being dealt a double whammy of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the temporary closure of the iconic Lift ...


Two local organizations awarded humanities grants (access required)

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded more than $2.3 million statewide to support local cultural nonprofits and ...