Executive Budget Proposal Needs Legislature's Approval

A Win for RIOC and Rosenthal - Cuomo Includes $25 million in Budget Proposal

Updated 2 years ago David Stone
RIOC President and CEO Susan Rosenthal may have creatively resolved a major conflict between its Board and the State.
RIOC President and CEO Susan Rosenthal may have creatively resolved a major conflict between its Board and the State.
File photo courtesy of RIOC/Erica Spenser-El

Word first came by email from the office of State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, who announced "...the Executive Budget includes a $25 million capital appropriation for Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC). This money would fund a multi-year capital improvement program on Roosevelt Island as agreed to by the State in relation to the Cornell Tech development." It now goes to the legislature for inclusion in the State's annual budget, effective April 1st.

What makes this a potential victory for RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal is how it resolves conflicts lingering from last year's budget.

While neither Seawright's announcement nor the one that followed from RIOC correctly explain the agreement between RIOC and the Economic Development Corporation, public benefit corporations controlled by Governor Cuomo, the money's what RIOC's resident Board Members demanded and may be sufficient to put last year's conflict to rest.

A statement in support of the overall executive budget by RIOC Public Relations Officer Alonza Robertson describes the money as intended "... to support capital infrastructure improvements."

But that isn't what the Board voted to approve in a term sheet that transferred a parcel of land back to the City for developing Cornell Tech's game changing campus.

EDC agreed to give RIOC the cash, free and clear, or "an equivalent amount to support capital infrastructure improvements." But when then President/CEO Charlene Indelicato signed off on a Memorandum of Understanding to bind the agreement, she tied the money strictly to infrastructure spending, denying the Board its right to spend some or all of the money as it saw fit and as future needs might require.

That discrepancy fueled rancorous debate when Rosenthal asked the Board to approve a budget for the fiscal year beginning April 1st, 2017, that did not include a dime of payments due from the agreement, arguing that RIOC needed to prove that it would spend the money on infrastructure improvements. $1,000,000 was expected.

As Board member Margie Smith protested that it wasn't the agreement she voted for and her fellow Board Members joined in, Rosenthal held up the MOU signed by Indelicato.

Pragmatic, Rosenthal suggested a tactical approach. Rather than protest by voting down the budget, she proposed demonstrating a commitment to tackling important infrastructure improvements - like a badly needed Roosevelt Island Bridge helix upgrade - that would demonstrate a determination to spend wisely where previous administrations had been neglectful.

Once a majority of the Board voted affirmatively, Rosenthal went to work, and as Robertson's press release noted, "RIOC currently has a five-year $65-million major improvements schedule to immediately address aging infrastructure and public facilities that have had neither improvements nor repairs since their original construction 40 years ago."

It may not be exactly what the Board voted for in the heady days leading up to Cornell Tech's groundbreaking, but it may well be good enough to satisfy everyone involved, getting the money in hand to do work that should have been done long before Rosenthal started her tenure on Roosevelt Island.

Next step is for the State legislature to mull the money as part of a vastly larger budget and send its own version to the Governor for signature.

The RIOC Board will vote on its own final budget, later this spring.

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