Whatever block of money emerges for the states from President Obama's economic stimulus package, Albany must use the portion for infrastructure spending for the job-creating projects it was intended to fund, not just to balance the state budget. And it must do so in ways that are fair to Western New York.
Gov. David A. Paterson's initial listing of shovel-ready projects doesn't inspire much confidence. To be sure, the governor's office characterizes that as a rush job intended just to show the feds that New York does indeed have many projects that can be in motion within 90 days, the targeted time frame for immediate stimulation of economic activity.
It had better be. Voters here should be outraged if upstate in general and the Buffalo area in particular are short-changed in economic recovery spending.
Congress sought to minimize pork spending in the stimulus package by avoiding the practice of "earmarking" representatives' pet projects, instead sending large allocations to the states. States also would get money intended for Medicaid and budget-balancing help, but Albany's projected $14 billion deficit for the fiscal year starting in April poses a huge temptation to siphon off infrastructure funds to help close that gap -- using the federal money, for instance, to pay for scheduled road or bridge repairs that normally would be paid for by the Department of Transportation budget, or for projects the state already had promised to fund.
But, as Buffalo's Rep. Brian Higgins rightly notes, stimulus funding "is supposed to be a supplement," not a one-shot replacement for spending the state would do anyway.
Western New York has projects ready to provide construction jobs quickly and spur longer-term job creation. Higgins has been working with Mayor Byron W. Brown, County Executive Chris Collins and others to bring those projects to the attention of a state leadership that lacks upstate-based champions.
The projects include obvious choices critically important to the area's redevelopment strategies -- elements of waterfront development, university growth or anything from treatment centers to parking ramps that expands the size and economic potential of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, for example. They include demolition programs, or readying the still-empty north side of the Lakeside Commerce Park for development.
There also are other projects not yet on this list that could be considered -- for instance, boosting the region's cultural tourism potential by helping the African-American heritage site on Michigan Street, finishing the Martin House Visitors Center interior or even funding an already-designed center for a Hamburg fossil site that already draws a surprising amount of out-of-state visitors.
In short, there are ready-to-launch, much-needed projects here. Albany needs to recognize the obvious need for economic stimulus in Western New York and make sure those needs are met as fully as possible through the supplemental funding that Washington is making available.