ALBANY — If a group of state lawmakers have their way, New York voters could decide next year whether the state should borrow $5 billion to cover some of its myriad infrastructure needs.
A bill introduced this month would ask voters to allow the state to issue $5 billion in bonds in order to pay for projects that could improve the state’s environment — from repairs to aging municipal sewer and drinking water systems to boosting the number of community gardens to initiatives that improve air quality.
The need for improvements is great, said Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, D-Suffolk County, who is sponsoring the measure. A report from the Comptroller’s Office found the state has $75 billion in water and sewage infrastructure needs over the next 20 years, with most of those costs borne by local governments.
“It’s a drop in the bucket, so to speak,” Sweeney said Wednesday. “The proposal is significant, but the needs are significant, too.”
The measure is being pushed by Sweeney and Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, who chair their respective chambers’ environmental conservation committee. The bill has 21 Democratic co-sponsors in the Assembly.
The state last approved an environmental bond act in 1996, when voters green-lighted a $1.75 billion borrowing plan.
Sweeney last introduced a bonding proposal in 2009, but pulled it as the economic recession deepened. His new bill, he said, is aimed at starting a conversation before lawmakers return to the state Capitol in January.
The new proposal calls for the funds to be split up three ways: $2 billion for improving the state’s clean water resources; $2 billion for sewage infrastructure repair; and $1 billion for programs improving air quality or preventing urban pollution.
There is plenty of aging wastewaster infrastructure in Monroe County that needs to be repaired or replaced; the county’s Pure Waters agency, which operates sewage collection systems countywide and treatment plants in Rochester and Greece, is planning $32 million worth of work over the next six years.