They’re pulling out the big guns for this infrastructure fix.
Some state pols want to fast track work on the deteriorating Brooklyn–Queens Expressway — but only if the city puts armed cops in every school.
Republicans in the state Senate proposed a fiscal plan on March 14 — following Gov. Cuomo’s two budget drafts issued in January and February — that allows the city to use the streamlined design-build process in its job to rebuild a 1.5-mile stretch of the three-tiered expressway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street, but inextricably ties the authorization to a provision that would require firearm-carrying officers in learning houses across the five boroughs.
But after kids across Kings County walked out of classrooms that same day as part of a nationwide call to reform gun laws following last month’s devastating shooting that claimed 17 lives at a Florida high school, linking the unrelated law to the road’s repair is a slap in the face to students and teachers who don’t want more weapons in safe spaces, a Brooklyn Heights pol said.
“I find it very distressing that they would connect these two issues,” said Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, whose Democratic majority in the lower chamber released its own one-house budget that included authorization for design-build without any conditions. “I don’t think the recent events inspire confidence in that approach — this is a very troubling proposal.”
And days before the upper chamber’s Republicans introduced their budget proposal tying design-build with more boots on the ground, Brooklyn state Senators Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) and Simcha Felder (D–Midwood) — a long-time supporter of armed cops in schools, who sits across the aisle with the Grand Old Party to give it a majority in the Senate — along with a colleague from Staten Island drafted a similar bill authorizing the faster process to fix the expressway on the condition that pistol-packing police are stationed in every city school.
Golden, the main sponsor of the March 5 bill — and another law that would bring security scanners to schools across the state — is a strong proponent of design-build, since transit gurus claim it would slash more than $100 million from the $1.9-billion job to make over the road and shave two years off its timeline, allowing work to finish before the city would need to send the thousands of trucks that traverse the triple cantilever daily down local streets to avoid its collapse.
The Bay Ridge pol, however, twice previously introduced legislation to green-light design-build without any conditions, so it makes no sense why he’s now combining it with more firearms in learning houses, Simon said.
“Sen. Golden has been a strong supporter of design-build, particularly for the BQE, I don’t know why he is doing this,” she said.
Brooklyn Heights’ state Senator questioned why his colleagues would connect the two completely different issues, suggesting the pols’ package deal may be a cruel ploy using the threat of havoc on local roads to get armed cops in schools with a reference to the now notorious e-mail an official in distant New Jersey sent that led to the lane-closure scandal on the George Washington Bridge, or “Bridgegate.”
“Is this an example of the majority, if they don’t get their way on a certain policy issue, however legitimate, suggesting that perhaps ‘it’s time for traffic problems in Brooklyn,’ to borrow a phrase from New Jersey?” said Democrat Brian Kavanagh.
But Golden thinks the best way to spend the money saved by using design-build — which solicits one bid for a project’s design and construction instead of separate proposals for each — is to allocate it towards gun-carrying officers and improvements to the beleaguered subway system, according to his rep.
“Sen. Golden believes that assigning armed police officers to schools is undoubtedly the direction we must now go,” said John Quaglione. “He intends to get the present legislation for design-build for the BQE enacted into law this year, and we would expect the seriousness of the issue to garner the support of the Assembly and the governor.”
There are already Police Department–employed school-safety agents stationed at all public schools in Brooklyn and the outer boroughs, but those officers are not armed, according to a police spokesman and a rep for the Department of Education.
Earlier this month, Cuomo expressed his support for allowing design-build in the city-led expressway repair, calling it “essential” to the job after releasing his two budget drafts that did not include authorization for the process.
And now, state legislators will begin negotiations — some behind closed doors — until both houses and the governor agree on a final budget, which Cuomo must sign by April 1.
Felder did not respond to a request for comment by press time.