State governments don't often see 10-figure windfalls. But New York is looking at one right now -- a whopping $5-billion bonanza, much of it from settlements with banks in the wake of the mortgage securities crisis. The figure could reach $6 billion.
That, predictably, has led to the lottery winner's dilemma: How should we spend the dough?
It's a happy problem, and one that has all corners of the state angling for their share.
It's easy to say what the money should not be spent on: anything that is a recurring expense. So no extra school aid, for example, because after you spend it, then what?
This is one-shot revenue and should be spent on one-shot expenses. And because it's big, let's think big. Transformatively big.
Many leaders around the state -- political, business and others -- are coalescing around the idea of spending it on infrastructure. We agree. The needs are enormous. But we would add to that a focus on a particular kind of infrastructure: environmental infrastructure.
Our wish list includes an ocean outfall pipe for the Bay Park sewage treatment plant. And sewers and high-tech wastewater systems in Suffolk. They're not sexy and they're not traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges, which government should fund as part of standard operations. But a green-friendly agenda can spark economic development, create jobs, deliver benefits that last for generations, and address growing concerns -- on Long Island and around the state -- about our environment and the impacts of climate change.
We wouldn't be the only region making such a pitch. The Adirondack Park region, a major part of the state tourism industry and the source of drinking water for much of upstate, is asking for $200 million to make critical upgrades to water and wastewater systems.
Money pots lead to Albany food fights, and this is no exception. As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers divvy up the dollars, Long Island's delegation must fight for our share, and then some. Strictly by population, around $700 million would be coming our way -- $840 million if the pot grows to $6 billion. But given the governor's predilection for sending dollars upstate -- like the ongoing Buffalo Billion initiative -- a "Long Island Billion" seems fair and overdue.
Our region would benefit from other ideas being advanced -- such as helping fund the new $3.9-billion Tappan Zee Bridge to tamp down inevitable toll increases. But the biggest bang for our bucks would come from direct investments on Long Island.
A Bay Park outfall pipe carrying treated effluent out to the ocean would restore the ecosystem of the western bays, replenish fish and shellfish populations, and regenerate salt marshes that provide a natural barrier to the storm surges that will become more frequent and more intense as climate change causes sea levels to rise. Expanding sewers on Suffolk's South Shore would do the same for the Great South Bay; hooking up downtowns also would jump-start redevelopment there.
Other more traditional projects worth funding include creating bus rapid transit systems along Nicolls Road and Route 110 in Suffolk, part of County Executive Steve Bellone's plan to help reverse the brain drain and generate economic development by connecting universities, airports, train stations, downtowns and commercial and residential developments.
Widening the Sagtikos Parkway -- already clogged during rush hours -- is a critical piece of the $4-billion Heartland Town Square mixed-use project.
It's a long list, and there's more. And it's all worth doing. But we need help. We're still recovering from the recession and superstorm Sandy, and now we're on the front line of climate change.
Long Island is a pivotal part of the state's economy. Albany knows that. It's time to back that belief with money.