New York Gov. Cuomo Makes Case for Federal Spending on Infrastructure Projects

By Ted Mann Features Dow Jones Newswires

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged the administration to spend federal money to fulfill President Donald Trump's $1 trillion pledge to rebuild American infrastructure, pointing to a stalled rail project as an example where no other funding sources will work.

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Mr. Cuomo is asking the administration to restart efforts to build new rail tunnels beneath the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York City, and headed to Washington for a meeting with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao after huddling with the New York state congressional delegation.

While the need for the new tunnels is a matter of bipartisan agreement, the Gateway Program highlights a deeper conflict between the administration and state officials who have applauded talk of rebuilding roads and bridges.

"If we're going to be serious about infrastructure, which this administration said they were going to be, the money's going to have to come from the federal government," Mr. Cuomo said on Wednesday.

The administration says it hopes private investors will provide the bulk of the financing for an infrastructure program, providing upfront cash in exchange for proceeds from sources like highway tolls and water and sewer fees. The administration says it will also do some direct federal funding of projects, especially in rural areas with less appeal to private investors. But skeptics in both parties say that approach could be limited, and that more federal funding will likely be needed to get anywhere near the administration's $1 trillion target.

A White House spokeswoman referred a request for comment to Transportation Department. A spokeswoman for the agency didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Details on the Trump infrastructure plan remain uncertain. Administration officials have said they want to allocate $200 billion in federal funds for the effort, with the rest of the financing coming from private sector investors. The administration has suggested it will count some projects toward its trillion-dollar total even if the administration's policies have nothing to do with their funding -- for instance, by taking credit for the value of privately funded pipelines like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline, because Mr. Trump supports their construction.

An ideological disagreement also divides the Trump administration and leaders like Mr. Cuomo and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who think projects like the Gateway Program should be funded directly by the federal government as well as the states, given their regional impact.

In 2015, the Obama administration said the federal government would pay half the cost of the project, which also includes a new bridge and platforms abutting New York's Penn Station. The most recent estimates put the cost of the entire project at $29.1 billion. But the Trump administration has yet to signal whether it will stand by that funding commitment.

"You can't have it both ways," Mr. Cuomo said at the Capitol, before heading over to meet Ms. Chao. "You cannot say 'I believe we need to rebuild this nation's infrastructure and that's a top priority and I pledge one trillion dollars' and then say the state and the cities have to pay. If the state and the cities have to pay you're not going to have a robust infrastructure program, because the states and the cities just don't have that money."

"The general, overall, sort of philosophy of this is that we want to be strong partners with the state and local governments and incentivize them to increase spending locally and at the state level," a senior administration official told reporters in June, on the eve of what the White House branded as "Infrastructure Week."

Alarm is rising among supporters of Gateway that the project might be indefinitely stalled. Despite years of planning and permitting work, progress on the new Hudson River tunnels will not occur until a funding agreement is in place. Mr. Cuomo has been criticized by transit advocates for what they say is his inattention to transit projects, including recent breakdowns and delays in the New York City subways run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which he controls.

On Wednesday, he struck an urgent tone.

"We're doing the planning work," he said. "I want to hear that we're actually going to fund the tunnel."

Write to Ted Mann at ted.mann@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 26, 2017 17:26 ET (21:26 GMT)