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Republican lawmakers say proposed state budget cuts to CHIPS program detrimental to local roads, bridges

State Sen. Tom O’Mara speaks at a press conference in Big Flats. Joining O’Mara at the podium is (l-r) Town of Elmira, Town Supervisor, Ann Gerould, Assemblyman, Philip Palmesano, City of Elmira Mayor, Dan Mandell, Assemblyman, Christopher Friend.
Natalie Abruzzo
State Sen. Tom O’Mara speaks at a press conference in Big Flats at the Town Municipal Campus, Town Highway Garage. Joining O’Mara at the podium is (l-r) Town of Elmira Town Supervisor Ann Gerould, Assemblyman Philip Palmesano, City of Elmira Mayor Dan Mandell, Assemblyman Christopher Friend.

Local Republican lawmakers are calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to keep millions of dollars in funding for a major infrastructure program in the 2025 state budget.

The Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) provides much-needed money for highway departments in the Southern Tier.

The 2023-24 budget included nearly $600 million for the CHIPS program. Municipalities in Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben counties all received more than a 10 percent increase from the previous year.

However, Republican lawmakers claim the governor’s proposed state budget for fiscal year 2024-25 cuts $60 million from the program.

“The state can't shirk its responsibility for helping with local roads and bridges, by cutting the overall- the basic program for our local roads and bridges is CHIPS,” said State Sen. Tom O’Mara, who represents parts of the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier. “That's the base, and we need to have that sound. We need to have increases to it.”

In addition to calls for the $60 million to be restored, O’Mara and other officials are calling for an increase to the CHIPS base level by $200 million for a total of just under $800 million.

The CHIPS program is not the only source of funding for infrastructure in local municipalities. Some use additional New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) grant programs like Pave NY, Pave our Potholes (POP), and Extreme Winter Recovery (EWR). These may be combined with funding opportunities from their county governments.

Most of the local governments in Steuben, Chemung and Schuyler counties said CHIPS was the majority of their funding for road projects and equipment purchases. In some instances it was up to 60 percent of their highway budgets. Sales and property taxes make up any gaps.

Dan Mandell, the mayor for the city of Elmira in Chemung County said the proposed cut to the program would affect the city’s budget by $100,000.

“You start cutting funds, now we [got] to drop back to plan ‘B’ and either not get the roads done or again, go back to borrowing money to fix the roads, because there's plenty of roads in the city of Elmira to fix,” said Mandell.

According to a press release from Chemung County Executive Christopher Moss, the county provided $2 million in grants for its municipalities to use on local roadway maintenance-related work in 2023-24. Mandell said that the city of Elmira received $320,380 from this grant program in 2023.

Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler said while it does not provide direct financial assistance to its local governments, it provides shared services for road and culvert work and equipment. Schuyler County Administrator, Shawn Rosno said the county does not provide any funding to its municipalities for local road, bridge or culvert work.

Some other local officials said they pursue federal funding opportunities for infrastructure projects through the American Rescue Plan Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grants.

In a statement, the state DOT said: “New York has one [of] the most aggressive road and bridge renewal programs in the United States and is investing more in the modernization of its transportation infrastructure than at any other point in the state’s history.”

The statement continued: “Governor Hochul’s proposed 2024-25 budget allocates CHIPS and [State Touring Routes Program] funding in amounts prescribed by the state’s $32.9 billion, five year capital program, which is the largest such plan of its kind in state history. The current 2023-24 budget marks the second year of the plan and includes $7 billion to improve highways, bridges, rail, aviation infrastructure, and transit across the state, including over $1 billion in direct local assistance for local roads and bridges.”

The governor’s office provided a statement reiterating the data and information presented by the DOT and added: “In the coming months, Governor Hochul looks forward to working with the legislature to pass much-needed infrastructure funding, so the state can continue the work necessary to keep New Yorkers safe on our roads and bridges.”

The 2025 state budget is due April 1.

Updated: February 28, 2024 at 3:18 PM EST
This report has been updated to include information about Schuyler County and Gov. Kathy Hochul. In a previous version, it stated that Schuyler County and the governor did not respond to a request for comment. The report now reflects their responses.