Better use for funds

The $1.5 billion New York Upstate Revitalization Initiative competition seems like another gimmick designed to get kudos for politicians at the expense of other – though far less exciting – needs.

On Wednesday, the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council and the MV500 group presented proposals to the state Wednesday in an effort to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to improve the Mohawk Valley region’s economy. The MV500 group is trying to claim a $500 million share of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $1.5 billion URI competition, in which seven regions in upstate New York are competing for three $500 million grants.

MV500 represents the Mohawk Valley counties of Fulton, Montgomery, Herkimer, Oneida, Otsego and Schoharie.

The MV500 presentation on Wednesday indicated 3,100 jobs could be created within a year, as well as 6,100 indirect jobs.

The proposal involves $3.8 billion in private-sector investment, which would be bumped up to $4.3 billion with $500 million from the competition. It calls for more than 17,000 jobs in the Mohawk Valley in 15 years. The plan calls for increasing the percent of profitable farms in the Mohawk Valley from 46 percent to 50 percent by 2030, and for increasing visitor spending from 14 percent to 18 percent by 2025.

While that sounds great, the reality is that – like any investment – none of these things are guaranteed. The state can throw money at any region’s plan, but there is no real guarantee it will bear the jobs and economic gains.

We think a better use for that money would be dedicating it to improving the infrastructure of the state – especially upstate.

As we have noted before, Cuomo’s plans for economic development may pay off in time, but it remains an open question whether the failing roads, bridges, sewers and water pipes of upstate New York will be capable of supporting that growth.

This problem hits home in our area, where many roads, bridges and water systems need repair. In Fulton County alone, nearly 40 bridges are rated by the New York State Department of Transportation as deficient. Localities can’t afford to fix these problems on their own.

Would $1.5 billion solve the problem for the state?

Absolutely not. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates New York state is facing $22 billion in costs to upgrade its municipal water systems. The state’s own estimates have the potential costs at $39 billion, and that’s just municipal water systems.

But dedicating the money to infrastructure would send the right message: The state will do its part to address and solve an important problem.