Key vote today on Cuomo’s Tappan Zee loan

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The Tappan Zee Bridge. (AP Photo)
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ALBANY—A scheduled vote today by the Public Authorities Control Board on a controversial plan to move $511 million in clean water funds to the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project is being closely watched by federal regulators and lawmakers across the state.

Officials in Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration have portrayed the loan as a creative way to partially finance the $4 billion bridge project, one of the nation's largest public works projects. Critics have warned that stripping money from a fund intended for infrastructure improvements like sewer repairs and river clean-up to build a bridge could set a national precedent if it is copied by lawmakers in other states.

Half the loan would be interest free and the other half would carry an interest rate below 4 percent.

The three voting members of the Public Authorities Control Board must unanimously approve the loan, which has been criticized as a violation of state and federal law by state and local legislators as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. One of the board's non-voting members, State Senator Bill Perkins, asked for the loan request to be withdrawn because, he said, it would endanger the funding of other key projects. Environmental groups have threatened to sue if the loan is approved and at least eight newspaper editorial boards have weighed in against the plan.

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E.P.A. administrator Gina McCarthy has also expressed concern about the state's plans. State officials insist it's a legal use of the funds and that they don't need approval from E.P.A., which has provided some of the money to the Clean Water Fund.

If the loan is approved by the control board, it will likely win final approval. The Environmental Facilities Corporation, which is mostly controlled by Cuomo, voted to approve the project last month. The New York State Thruway Authority must also vote on the loan, but is it widely expected to be approved there as well.

The decision on an issue that has garnered national attention rests in the hands of the three voting members of the control board, one of whom is Cuomo's budget director. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has not said how he will vote. State Senator John DeFrancisco, a Republican from Syracuse, has raised questions about the loan and said he wanted more information before he could vote to approve it. The vote must be unanimous for the loan to be approved. As of late Tuesday afternoon, DeFrancisco had not decided how he will vote, according to a source briefed on the process.

The Cuomo administration has kept secret much of the financial plan for the new bridge, construction on which has already begun. The inevitable toll hike that will fund the project could earn him a round of bad press in the final months before Election Day. The Democratic governor has touted the bridge as a major achievements of his first term, one he claims was accomplished with bipartisan support.