Cuomo Touts Smart Growth Grants But Stays Mum on MTA Funding

The smart growth grant program, framed as green jobs, made it into the governor's State of the State slideshow.

Smart growth grants, framed as a green jobs program, made it into the governor's State of the State slideshow.

If his State of the State address yesterday offers any indication, transportation policy isn’t going to be a top-tier priority for Andrew Cuomo. He didn’t mention pressing issues like the MTA’s looming deficits or the state’s crumbling infrastructure, instead focusing his attention on ethics reform, Medicaid and reorganizing state government. He did, however, repeat his proposal to institute a $100 million competitive grant program to encourage smart growth around the state, suggesting that campaign promise has momentum early in his administration.

The grants, which Cuomo calls the “New York Cleaner, Greener Communities Program,” would reward regions that develop the best plans to coordinate sustainable housing, transportation, and energy policies. In his campaign policy book, Cuomo said that transit, alternative fuel cars, and pedestrian and bike infrastructure were “essential component[s] of our urban redevelopment efforts.”

During the State of the State, Cuomo chose to frame the smart growth grants as a green jobs program. Said Cuomo yesterday:

We proposed a $100 million competitive grant program that will go to local private sector partnerships that come up with the best plans to create green jobs, reduce pollution and further environmental justice. Let the private marketplace come in, let them work with the local governments and the local community groups to come up with the best plans. Let’s reward performance. Lets incentivize performance. Let competition run, and let us fund the best.

A comparison with Cuomo’s prepared remarks and slideshow make clear that the green jobs program and the smart growth program are in fact the same.

While both the policy and political details remain yet to be worked out, smart growth advocates were excited to see the program mentioned in the State of the State. Empire State Future director Peter Fleischer said he was “quite encouraged” by that section of the speech. Fleischer also praised Cuomo for his decision to keep the state’s Smart Growth Cabinet, formed under Eliot Spitzer, in place.

That said, it is noteworthy how low on Cuomo’s agenda transportation is. For comparison’s sake, Spitzer’s first State of the State discussed still-timely issues like the Second Avenue Subway and the Tappan Zee Bridge, albeit in a very different political climate.