The federal government is having trouble passing a budget, but when it comes to drivers squinting or slowing down to read signs on streets and highways, Washington's got it covered.
New regulations that were passed quietly in 2007 require all levels of government around the country, from the biggest states to the smallest villages, to ensure by 2018 that their road signs are sufficiently reflective in order to aid seniors and people driving at night.
In addition, new signs will have to be printed in mixed-case lettering, instead of entirely in uppercase letters, though there is no deadline for that provision. Officials point to numerous studies that have found that fewer accidents occur on roadways with signs that use mixed-case letters. Mixed-Case Lettering Looks Like This.
Federal transportation officials say the new rules could save lives by making signs easier to read, thus taking drivers' eyes off the road for a shorter amount of time. They also say that signs that are more reflective could help police and EMT workers find accident sites more quickly.
The project is completely unfunded, meaning municipalities whose existing road signs don't conform to the new standards have seven years to replace them. When New York City began replacing its signs last year, officials estimated the total cost of the project to be $27.6 million—about $110 per sign.
Some local municipalities have come up with creative solutions to offset the cost of replacing signs. The city of Rye, which has replaced about one-third of its street signs, is selling old signs for $20 each—a program that Councilman Joe Sack said "has been wildly successful."
"We're taking lemons and making lemonade," Sack said. "We are drawing attention to an onerous and arguably unnecessary unfunded mandate while giving residents a chance to own a sentimental keepsake."
Sack, who did not say how much the city would spend on new signs, said the city may raise the cost of the signs because of the popularity of the program, so if you're interested in a Boston Post Road sign, act now.
Nyack Mayor Richard Kavesh said the village usually spends about $5,000 a year on new signs. Village Administrator James Politi added that Nyack has already begun to install signs that comply with the federal rules. Rockland County is swapping out all of its highway signs, but the superintendent of the Highway Department was unavailable to comment on the cost.
Supporters of the new rules say that local governments were given a decade to put up the new signs so that the costs could be absorbed as part of routine maintenance.
"No one should be tearing up perfectly good signs right now," said Jim Baron, a spokesman for the American Transportation Safety Services Association (ATSSA), a trade group that represents companies that make street signs. "They should be knocked during a normal maintenance cycle."
In fact, ATSSA asserts that the total cost of the program will be just $37 million nationwide when routine maintenance is taken into account.
State officials don't seem to be sweating the new regulations. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Post said that the cash-strapped state would be switching to the new signs as the old ones need to be replaced.
"It's just part of the routine cost of doing business," Post said. "We regularly change signs out to ensure that they are visible and reflective and in good shape."
Here's a look at what our local lawmakers were up to between April 8 and April 15:
Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh) introduced one bill, which would require county health commissioners to alert mayors, town and village lawmakers and county legislators in the event of an "imminent risk" to public health or safety.
Assemblyman Bob Castelli (R-Goldens Bridge) did not introduce any bills.
Castelli on April 11 echoed the mantra of 2010 gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan, proclaiming "the rent is too damn high" in Westchester and praising the Assembly for passing a package of reforms to rent-control laws. The current rent stabilization laws for New York City, Westchester, Rockland and Long Island expire June 15, and the Assembly is seeking to extend and expand those laws. Speculation has swirled that the Senate's Republican majority will only pass the legislation if the Assembly agrees to approve a 2 percent cap on property tax increases. Castelli also voiced support for the property tax cap, which the Senate passed in January.
Castelli also announced that he is partnering with Veterans Affairs Hudson Valley Health Care System to raise awareness about medical services available to veterans. Any veteran in need of assistance is urged to call the assemblyman's office at (914) 686-7335.
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) introduced three bills, including a constitutional amendment that would implement a state takeover of the portion of the Medicaid program currently paid for by counties - about 25 percent of the total cost. "The State is far better able to finance the Medicaid Program than are the counties because of its broader and more equitable tax base, which draws on the income wealth of the entire state," Galef said in a bill memo. The proposal has died in the Assembly seven times since 1997. Amendments to the state constitution must be passed by two consecutive and separately-elected legislatures, and then approved by voters in a referendum.
Galef also wants the state to create a set of standards for certifying "green roofs," and establish a tax credit of up to $5,000 for installing roof gardens.
The next installment of Galef's "Dear Sandy" public-access TV show will air on Friday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m. on Comcast and 9 p.m. on Cablevision.
Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) introduced one bill, which would direct the Office of Children and Family Services to conduct a study on the costs of different types of day care programs in New York.
The Assembly on April 11 passed a bill sponsored by Jaffee that would prohibit public employers from compensating male and female workers differently for comparable work. The bill was part of a package of legislation passed by the Assembly aimed at ending pay discrimination.
Assemblyman Steve Katz (R-Yorktown) did not introduce any bills.
Katz on April 8 announced that $15.4 million in state grants have been awarded in his district to offset the costs of a federal mandate, known as MS4, that requires local governments to test and filter stormwater that runs into the Croton Watershed, which provides water to New York City. The town of Southeast will receive $3.4 million, Westchester County will get $9.1 million and the town of North Salem will get $4.6 million. The 10-year MS4 project is projected to cost upwards of $500 million. Katz and other local lawmakers, including Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson) are pushing legislation that would require the state to consider a municipality's ability to afford the project.
Katz and other Assembly Republicans on April 12 joined members of the business community to call on the Assembly's Democratic majority to pass a 2 percent cap on property tax increases.
Katz on April 13 held mobile office hours at North Salem Town Hall. He will hold a town-hall meeting at Pawling Town Hall on April 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. and mobile office hours at Carmel Town Hall on April 21 from 4 to 7 p.m.
Assemblyman George Latimer (D-Rye) introduced five bills, one of which would allow adoptive parents to deduct legal fees and other costs of adopting a child from their income taxes.
A second bill would void any state contract to which a "debt-evading foreign state" is a party; such states are defined as those that have defaulted on at least $1 million in debt owed to New York.
Latimer also introduced a measure that would allow the village of Harrison to levy a 3 percent hotel occupancy tax.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) did not introduce any bills.
Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-New City) introduced one bill, which would expand the definition of "unfair educational practices" to include denying admission to an educational institution based on prior incarceration, unless it involves a violent felony or felony sex offense.
Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson) introduced seven bills, one of which would prohibit municipalities from applying new zoning laws to ongoing development projects. Currently, an approved project can be subject to abrupt changes in municipal laws, leading to increased costs or the scrapping of a project that has already begun. Ball said that the bill would provide "predictability and security" to investors, creating jobs in the process.
The rest of the senator's bills relate to veterans and active members of the military, including a proposal that would prohibit public employers from abolishing a position held by a worker who is absent on military duty.
Ball on April 12 that contained a vial of liquid, a stuffed monkey wearing a Star of David and a letter that harshly criticized the senator for holding hearings on homeland security that focused, in part, on Islamic terrorism.The letter calls Ball a "crazy, Christian cracker" and labels his hearings as "a declaration of war against Muslims."
State Police shut down Ball's office for the day, before learning that the liquid was only perfume. The package was sent by Jameela Barnette, a grandmother from Marietta, Georgia, who told reporters that she is a Muslim and was deeply offended by Ball's hearings. The package was reminiscent of a bloody pig's foot sent to Long Island Rep. Peter King after he held similar hearings in Washington last month.
Ball on April 14 sent a letter to President Obama asking him to provide funding to fix problems with radios used by police, firefighters and EMS workers. Radio inoperability plagued first responders on 9/11, and at Ball's April 8 hearing on homeland security witnesses testified that significant radio problems still exist.
Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown) introduced two bills, including a proposal to require the MTA to undergo an independent forensic audit. “Through a series of questionable financial practices, the MTA has jeopardized the public trust,” Carlucci said at a press conference announcing the legislation. The auditors would have to release a report by Jan. 1, 2013. The agency was supposed to be audited as part of a 2009 "bailout," but that audit was never funded by lawmakers.
The Senate on April 13 passed "Lauren's Law," a bill sponsored by Carlucci that prohibits driver's license applications from being processed unless the applicant answers a yes/no question regarding organ donation. Currently, applicants can either leave the question blank or opt to join the state's organ donor network. The bill is name after Lauren Shields, an 11-year-old girl who received a life-saving heart transplant. Shields, who is quite articulate for her age, has joined Carlucci at a number of press conferences. The bill passed the Senate on her 11th birthday. It now goes to the Assembly, where it has no sponsor.
Carlucci continued his push to have the onion declared New York's official state vegetable. He spoke about the issue, which has actually caused quite a debate in Albany, in an eight-minute segment on YNN's Capital Tonight. Some upstate lawmakers want sweet corn to be named the state's top veggie. Carlucci says the issue is an attempt to promote economic development for the state's agriculture industry. The senator also hosted an April 15 press conference to unveil a package of bills aimed promoting agribusiness. He was joined by local chef and restauranteur Peter X. Kelly.
On April 4 the senator sent a letter to the Delaware River Basin Commission praising the group for new regulations on natural gas drilling, specifically a controversial method known as "hydrofracking." But Carlucci goes on to recommend that the group require companies to disclose the chemicals used in hydrofracking operations and increase the buffer zone between gas wells and bodies of water, which is currently set at 500 feet.
Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Port Chester) did not introduce any bills.
Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) did not introduce any bills.
The senator on April 11 outlined her attempts to relieve local governments of some unfunded state mandates. She pointed to six bills she has sponsored this year, including proposals to allow municipalities to "piggyback" on existing purchasing agreements and allow Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs) in contiguous towns or counties to merge or share services. Another bill, which would allow county clerks to accept property tax payments electronically, has already passed the Senate. Stewart-Cousins is a member of Gov. Cuomo's Mandate Relief Redesign Team and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Local Government Committee.
Stewart-Cousins joined four of her Democratic colleagues on April 12 in pushing for a bill that would require natural gas drilling companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or "hydrofracking," a controversial drilling method that is currently under a state moratorium. The bill was rejected by members of the Senate's Republican majority.