Editorial: Paying for upstate plan must be clear

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

At first glance, Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s plan to invest $1 billion in Upstate New York seems a no-brainer. We’re in tough shape, and any infusion of money to help boost the economy would be most welcome. 

The larger question, of course, is where will the money come from? 

That’s what Spitzer will need to make clear today when he delivers his first State of Upstate address in Buffalo. The governor provided a preview of his $1 billion plan in his State of the State address last week, and is expected to provide more details today. 

Spitzer said last week that it’s time now for all New Yorkers to come together and help Upstate the same way they rallied to bail out New York City back in the 1970s. He proposes doing that with a $1 billion “Upstate Revitalization Fund” to meet Upstate’s most urgent needs. 

That’s separate from the “Restore New York” program that provides grants for statewide projects in economically distressed communities. On Tuesday, that program provided Utica with $2.23 million to complete the restoration and expansion of the Stanley Theatre, while Rome got $2.5 million to demolish the old Rome Cable building to make 50 acres of mixed commercial and retail facilities available in downtown Rome.

A total of $74 million was allocated to upstate communities in this round of funding taxpayer dollars appropriated in the 2006-07 state budget. 

Both projects demonstrate a return of taxpayer dollars into our region that can help economic development. 

Spitzer’s latest plan will increase funds for investing in businesses, in infrastructure needed to create shovel-ready sites, and in agribusiness. It will also fund his “City-by-City Plans,” which focus on the most essential and urgent upstate revitalization strategies. 

It’s tough to argue with the concept. For instance, part of Spitzer’s plan is to invest in the Upstate infrastructure. He argues that while lowering taxes can be beneficial when it comes to luring jobs, businesses also are drawn to areas that have a solid infrastructure – highways, sewers, water and likewise. That’s true. 

Daniel Gundersen, Spitzer’s upstate economic czar, said every region upstate will receive funding that will be allocated based on Regional Blueprints that have been designed in meetings held over the past year. He said Mohawk Valley leaders have expressed particular desire for basic infrastructure improvements involving water and sewer availability. 

Local leaders have an assortment of ideas for use of funding locally. Among them: Help Remington Arms in Ilion and expand developing companies in Herkimer County that do high-tech machining; build infrastructure for the Marcy NanoCenter, and help downtown Utica, Griffiss Business and Technology Park in Rome and possible expansion of the Empire Aero Center in Rome; address the water management situation at Hinckley Reservoir; and create new business parks.

But no matter how this is designed, somebody will have to pay for it. That’s the mystery right now, especially since Spitzer says he doesn’t plan to increase taxes. Great as it sounds, we need to be wary of plans we cannot afford. In New Jersey, for instance, Gov. Jon S. Corzine has proposed increasing highway tolls over the next 15 years in order to pay off half its debt and finance transportation improvements. If approved, drivers would face a 50 percent increase in tolls on New Jersey’s three major toll roads every four years. 

We’ll learn more about Spitzer’s upstate initiative today. “We know what needs to be done,” Gundersen said, “and the governor is prepared to outline the strategy on how to get there.” 

New Yorkers need to make sure that once we get there, our children and grandchildren can get back.