I have always been passionate about infrastructure. Some of you may remember my name on Facebook for years was March “Infrastructure” Gallagher. For example, I was fascinated with the building of the new Tappan Zee (aka Mario M. Cuomo) bridge, and made it my business to drive over it the first day it was opened.
Why do I love infrastructure?
Why do I love infrastructure? Infrastructure is literally the foundation upon which our communities are built. When I was a young budget analyst at the New York State Assembly Ways and Means Committee I had a mentor who encouraged me to develop an interest in capital maintenance. He was a senior level budget director who had a spent a career trying to get annual budget cycles to prioritize maintenance. We still fail regularly to prioritize cost-savings maintenance over other budget items at every level of government.
At so many other points in my career from environmental protection to economic development, the prioritization of investments in infrastructure were the key to thriving communities. As chair of the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency I facilitated closing the gap on Saugerties industrial water and sewer funding with an untapped source of bond financing that we had never used called Shovel Ready bonding.
Infrastructure is the key to public health and economic health. Knowing that broadband was a backbone to the modern economy one of the first things I did on the job in economic development was work with town supervisors in underserved parts of Ulster County to map broadband gaps in the county. We did this work the old fashioned way. Town supervisors used highlighters on road maps to identify gaps in service. Cable providers such as Spectrum provide additional service under franchise agreements negotiated separately with each town resulting in a patchwork of last-mile threshold requirements before service will be expanded. Could joint negotiations and multi-municipal franchise agreements get us better service? We still have major gaps in this critical “utility” in Ulster County today.
As the Chief Strategy Officer at Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, infrastructure was a major focus of my research. You can find my reports here and here. The gist of this work is that our regional infrastructure is not in good shape and as of that time, while county investments had stayed approximately level, cities, towns and villages were investing less overall into infrastructure to our detriment.
I am already digging in to the Government Finance Officers Association work on infrastructure. The 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act curtailed the ability of municipalities to refinance debt. The loss of this refinancing ability would be a tremendous burden to taxpayers, now and in the future. Thank goodness IRS guidance and opinion letters from bond counsel have defined some ability to continue this critical cost savings practice but whether overall tax-exempt bonding will remain in tact during future rounds of tax-cutting remains to be seen.
We need to protect the status of tax-exempt bonding overall for the purpose of municipal investments in infrastructure and looking for ways to reduce the cost of infrastructure investment. I look forward to being a voice for the people of Ulster County in making smart infrastructure finance a priority in planning for our future. I can’t wait to take my obsession with infrastructure and capital maintenance to the Ulster County Comptroller’s Office.