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Local Groups Beg at State Senate Budget Hearing

For the second time in four days, New York State Senators sat at a table in Western New York to listen to locals beg for money. On Friday, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Martin Malave Dilan held a hearing at the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society to hear idea on how the state should spend $25 billion in capital project funds over the next five years. (Joining Dilan were local senators Thompson, Stachowski, Ranzenhofer and Maziarz, and a well-heeled delegation from NYSDOT.)

The day’s headlines, forecasting a $10 billion deficit in the state budget over the next two years, were largely ignored until the last speaker, former State Senator and Buffalo Common Councilman Al Coppola, spoke his piece. He’d been waiting three hours to get to the microphone. He and Dilan exchanged senatorial pleasantries (Dilan politely pretended to have heard of Coppola, whose stint in Albany was brief), and then Coppola held up a copy of the day’s paper, and mentioned the climbing deficit. “Kind of changes everything we’ve been talking about here today, doesn’t it?” he said.

Dilan shrugged and nodded. “It changes everything.”

Not that transportation spending has been well managed in recent years anyway. From today’s Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:

Highway and motor vehicle taxes dedicated to road and bridge repairs continue to be raided to pay the state’s operating expenses, leading to a deterioration of New York’s infrastructure, according to a report from the Comptroller’s Office.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said that since 1991, only 35 percent, or $11.6 billion, of the money in the state’s Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund went to repair roads and bridges.

The majority of the money went to cover debt payments and expenses at the state Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Transportation, DiNapoli said.

He warned that the percentage of capital spending on roads will decline to 21 percent by 2014 and the state will need to pay $4 billion from the general fund just to pay current bills over the next five years.

“This is not acceptable,” DiNapoli said. “This money should be used to keep our roads and bridges safe.”

Using most of the $33 billion fund for other expenses has left the state unable to pay for a proposed $25.8 billion five-year capital plan for roads and bridges.

Gov. David Paterson recently rejected the new capital plan presented by the DOT, saying the state simply can’t afford it.

The state Association of Counties said nearly 40 percent of the state’s 17,000 bridges are in disrepair and urged state leaders to invest in the capital plan.

Which brings us to today’s hearing, already underway at the UAW office on George Karl Boulevard in Williamsville. Senate Finance Chair Carl Kruger and State Senator Bill Stachowski (the man Kruger muscled out of the powerful committee’s chairmanship) are taking testimony on Governor David Paterson’s deficit reduction plan, which aims to cut a projected $3 billion deficit in the 2009-2010 budget by whacking 10 percent off of basically everything.

Here’s the Senate’s description of Paterson’s plan.

And after the jump is the list of groups planning to testify.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute
Kaleida Health
Erie County Medical Center
Catholic Health System
Niagara Cerebral Palsy
NYS Association of Health Care Providers
Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital
Buffalo City Council
Western New York Healthcare Association
Unshackle Upstate
SUNY Upstate Medical University
University at Buffalo
Canisius College
Higher Education Opportunity Program
Commission on Independent Colleges & Universities
D’Youville College Student Union
Buffalo Teachers Federation
4201 Schools Association of NYS
Buffalo City School District Adult Education
Youth Bureaus
Erie County Medical Society
Family Planning Advocates
Erie County Chapter NYSARC
Development Disabilities Alliance of Western NY
Center for Disability Rights
Buffalo & Erie County Library
Summit Academy
Alliance for Quality Education
Erie County Senior Services
NY Association of Area Agencies on Aging
Legal Aid Society
Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project
Every Woman Opportunity Center
Lifetime Assistance
Empire State Housing Alliance
Religious Communities
Lutheran Social Services
Catholic Charities of Western NY
Family Advocates of Heritage Christian Services
Self-Advocacy Association of NYS
American Farmland Trust
Finger Lakes/Lake Ontario Watershed Protection
Aquarium of Niagara
NYS Association for Reduction Reuse & Recycling
Rivershore, Inc.
Audobon Society of Buffalo
St. Ann’s Community
Meals of Wheels for Western New York
Compass House
NYS Adapt
Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo
Flower City Down Syndrome Network