Western New York is truly fortunate to have the “Buffalo billion” pledged by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to reignite its long-slumbering economy. A billion dollars is a lot of money by any standard and, invested properly, it should make a tremendous difference.
But just because it is a lot of money doesn’t mean it should be used on every important project around, especially when other streams of funding are available, leaving more of the billion to be leveraged elsewhere.
So it is with the plan to rip up and replace a section of the Robert Moses Parkway in Niagara Falls. Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy was in Niagara Falls last week to announce that $10 million worth of the $1 billion will be devoted to that eminently worthy project, which will make the Niagara River gorge easily accessible to visitors and residents for the first time in decades.
It is a plausible use of that money, given the role that tourism should play in Niagara Falls, but as Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, notes, the New York Power Authority has both the money and the responsibility to take on this project. It should be the first source of funds in this effort.
The Power Authority built the parkway, evicting scores of homeowners in the process. It severed the city’s connection to the river in service of a parkway that was a net negative on the region.
What is more, as Higgins observes, the authority is flush with cash, most of it earned by its diversion of water from the Niagara River. He notes that the authority and the state have taken $1 billion from the Niagara Power Project in the past six years to fund operations elsewhere. In 2008 alone, the authority produced a $309 million surplus, 76 percent of which – $236 million – came from the Niagara River plant.
There is no reason on earth the Power Authority cannot fund this project and, indeed, every reason that it should. It caused the problem and it has the money to fix it. Why should Western New York have to devote a portion of the Buffalo billion to this project? Why should taxpayers anywhere in the state have to pay to undo NYPA’s folly?
In a time of state and federal financial weakness, it is especially important to use public funds wisely, and that includes the Buffalo billion, which, despite the number of zeros it includes, is not a limitless font of cash.
It is also important to place responsibility where it belongs and that is clearly with the New York Power Authority. That would be true even if it weren’t rolling in cash, but it is.
Western New Yorkers are grateful to Cuomo for the attention he is paying to Buffalo’s needs. Those needs are great enough that it will pay to use the money he is sending here with the kind of care it deserves. Before the state spends a dime on the Robert Moses Parkway, it needs to get the Power Authority to cough up.