December 16, 2013By KELLY FAY and TANIQUE WILLIAMS
Gazette staff writers
At the governor’s final cabinet meeting of the year, agency leaders announced successful initiatives and future plans to build on state growth for the upcoming session. Officials stressed three on-time state budgets and holding spending at 2 percent as major factors that have enabled New York to take ambitious action toward economic growth and cutting taxes.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo congratulated agencies on their work on a variety of issues saying, “Part of what I’m most pleased about is the breadth of the government and how much its accomplished.” The Governor’s Office also highlighted the Moreland Commission’s attempts to curb corruption in the Legislature, and a 5 percent increase in education funding as important undertakings of the last year.
Director of the Office of the Budget Robert Megna drew attention to the $1.3 billion saved by New York employers through recent reforms to unemployment insurance. He added the recommendations of the Pataki-McCall Commission to cut $2 billion in taxes was only possible due to the fiscal discipline employed by the state over the past three years.
Along with the recommendations outlined in the commission’s report, Megna said a renter’s credit is a possibility, which would ensure tax relief is equally distributed between New York City and the rest of state.
“While the commission didn’t recommend this, some members of the commission petitioned the governor to think about a renter’s credit,” Megna said, “and the governor has been clear that he is in support of a renters credit to achieve proportionality within the commission’s proposals on tax reductions.”
Chair of the New York State Tourism Council Cristyne Nicholas called 2013 “the year of tourism,” saying “With all of these savings and tax cuts we’re going to have to build tourism to record levels, thankfully the governor has given us the tools to be able to do that.”
Nicholas highlighted the state’s tourism industry has seen a 7 percent growth since 2012, outpacing the national average of 4.5. Earlier this year, $60 million in investment in the state’s tourism industry was announced at the Tourism Summit. The state also launched the Path through History Project and website, which promotes historically significant sites throughout the state as tourist destinations.
Other major events include the BassMaster Tournament — a four-day event attended by 34,000 people — and the 2013 PGA Championship — attended by 200,00 people. Add campaigns were also initiated this year including the “Get Out of Town” tourism campaign and advertising agreements with the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Port Authority, and La Guardia and JFK airports.
“By the numbers the governor’s investment in tourism is paying off” Nicholas said. “If you look at revenue, in 2013, the tourist industry is projected to confer $7.7 billion in state and local taxes — that’s enough to pay the salary of every firefighter and police officer in New York state.
Nicholas added that she expects to see a significant increase in tourism once the state has resort gaming destinations — approved recently by New York voters — up and running.
Director of State Operations Howard Glaser stressed the progress of investments into the NY Works initiative towards the improvement of state infrastructures. Of the $1.6 billion invested into the program, $1.2 billion is for the reconstruction of roads and bridges, $265 million is to improve parks, and $142 million is to protect coasts from floods.
NY Works, an initiative put forth by Cuomo two years ago, “Is a new way of doing business in the state. It’s not just spending more, it’s spending smart,” Glaser said. According to Glaser, the program is unique because it allows for more than one project within a region to take place under one contract, which saves time and money.
Of the $1.2 billion set aside for improvements to roads and bridges, NY Works has completed $488 million in improvements this year, compared to $462 million in road and bridge improvements that were either completed or under way in 2012.
According to the report, 57 bridge projects were completed through NY Works this year, compared to 45 projects in 2012.
The NY Works initiatives also include construction and upgrade projects to the New York State Thruway, with more than 250 lane miles resurfaced or rehabilitated on the Thruway this year.
Of the $265 million to improve parks, $175 million has been used thus far for 155 projects that have either been completed or are underway. According to the Governor’s Office, this component of NY Works will create 2,500 jobs.
“With the investment of $1.6 billion in projects ranging from bridges replacements to park rehabilitations and flood protection measures, NY Works is transforming state government’s approach to capital investments in a way that creates tens of thousands of jobs and more effectively upgrades our critical infrastructure,” Cuomo said. “The Task Force has made great progress thus far, and through this approach my administration will continue to revamp New York’s infrastructure for years to come.”