New York has used its dedicated highway and bridge trust fund more like a piggy bank than the pay-as-you go vehicle it was originally created as, according to a report released last week by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Since the fund was created in 1991, only $11.6 billion of the $33.2 billion collected from certain transportation-related taxes and fees for the fund was used for pay-as-you go capital spending on the state's highways, roads, and bridges, the report said.
"Only one-third of the money in the highway and bridge trust fund has actually been used to pay for highways and bridges," DiNapoli said in a press release.
"The rest has been siphoned off to pay for debt service on back-door borrowing and to fund operational costs for the [Department of Motor Vehicles] and the state Department of Transportation," the comptroller said. "This money should be going toward keeping our roads and bridges safe, not to fund state agency operations."
In 1994, the state began issuing bonds backed by the fund through the New York State Thruway Authority to finance highway and bridge projects.
The fund has paid $9.14 billion of debt service since the first bonds were issued, according to the report.
The authority has sold more than $10.9 billion of trust fund bonds and has a $16.5 billion cap on the total amount it can sell. The state plans to sell $3.8 billion of new trust fund bonds through fiscal 2014, the report said.
The use of the fund to support operating costs has grown over the past 16 years, accounting for a total of $12.6 billion.
The growth of debt service and operating expenses has caused the state to transfer money from the general fund to the trust fund to support its obligations. Over the next five years, those transfers will total $3.9 billion, according to state projections cited in the report.
DiNapoli said the state needs to develop a multi-year plan to address the trust fund's "unsustainable debt burden" and to return the fund to structural balance.
A spokesman for Gov. David Paterson said that while the governor agrees with the need for such strategic planning, it is not possible while the state's revenue picture continues to deteriorate.
"Such a plan is simply unaffordable given New York's current fiscal condition," spokesman Morgan Hook said in an e-mail.
"We cannot afford a multi-year plan until the economy improves, the federal government provides adequate multi-year funding, and the Legislature joins Gov. Paterson to seriously address the structural imbalance in the state budget," he wrote.
Hook also said that the state can't afford to change the current funding structure while also addressing its large deficit without cutting critical services or raising taxes.