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OpinionColumnistsPeter Goldmark

Goldmark: Don't gamble with NY State's future

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in Bethel, N.Y. (Nov. 6, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

It's now more than five years since the economic crash of 2008.

Nationally, four times as many people as before the crash are long-term unemployed (longer than six months). The recovery, if we call it that, is weaker and more halting than that after any recession since World War II. And the picture is roughly the same at the state level; like the country as a whole, New York is in an economic quagmire.

Nationally, we are cursed with a destructive feud between the executive branch and congressional Republicans on fiscal and budgetary policy. As a result, we have no growth plan for the country.

In New York, the governor and legislature have proved they can work on difficult things, like putting the state budget on sounder footing. But like the federal government, the state doesn't have a bold plan for investment and growth. We urgently need one.

Such a plan should be a program of structured investments in our shared but deteriorating capital assets -- such as transit, road and energy systems -- for the following reasons:

Investing in efficient infrastructure helps us grow the economy and become more competitive -- and that means more jobs, and jobs that will last.

Capital investment in infrastructure is something New York knows how to do. It has the financing skills, the public authorities, the design and management know-how.

Smart investment of public funds can unleash a larger investment of private dollars. For example, a modern freight rail system upstate can encourage investment in manufacturing and agriculture for export.

Investment in infrastructure is something we can do without the approval of a divided federal government.

Indeed, investment in infrastructure might be the only thing the state can do on a scale large enough to dramatically affect our long-term economy. Our capital plant is rusting out, rotting out and wearing out. No one questions the need to modernize it. But we are talking far more than roads, rails and bridges. We must achieve levels of efficiency in energy generation, distribution and consumption that are world-class so companies can improve productivity and bottom lines.

If the state and its public authorities increase the rate of capital investment, we can create scores of new jobs, according to a national engineering group, which would dramatically increase employment in our state.. And with the right public investments and changes to incentivize utilities to reward efficiency, we can trigger $60 billion to $80 billion in private investment in better energy systems, state officials estimate. (I serve on the New York State Infrastructure Works Council, which is studying the issues.)

I voted against the casino gambling measure on the ballot on Nov. 5 because it had nothing to do with long-term growth or productivity -- any more than gambling in Atlantic City made New Jersey more competitive. It won't create better jobs. Perhaps people will gamble here a little more and in Atlantic City and Las Vegas a little less. But it won't make us a global economic competitor.

I'm ready to vote for building a strong, growing economy for our children rather than leaving them a hollowed-out skeleton of a formerly great state that once led the country and the world by building the Erie Canal, our city subway and road networks, and our energy and health care systems.

I hope the governor and the legislature put a bold investment program on the ballot next year, and give us a chance to vote for real growth.

Peter Goldmark, a former budget director of New York State and former publisher of the International Herald Tribune, headed the climate program at the Environmental Defense Fund.