How will New York afford all of the infrastructure it needs? Don’t ask the comptroller

The Brooklyn Battery tunnel Tuesday. (M.T.A. via Flickr )
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That New York City has endured devastating damage from Sandy is undeniable.

No reputable scientist denies that New York City is susceptible to rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Yet, while Governor Andrew Cuomo today called for "a fundamental rethinking of our built environment," it's not at all clear how New York would pay for that, given its existing budget problems and a historically infrastructure-averse Albany legislature.

As state comptroller Tom DiNapoli pointed out on Wednesday during a phone interview with CNBC, "We have a gap in excess of $80 billion, in terms of what we know prior to the storm we needed for our local government infrastructure."

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DiNapoli agreed with Cuomo's assessment that the frequency of catastrophic storms represents a "new normal."

"I do think this is what the new normal's going to be, and we would be wise to listen to these warning signs from Mother Nature," said DiNapoli. "What's that gonna mean in terms of cost is anybody's guess, and we have so many unmet needs already. That's going to be a long-term discussion and one that is not easily resolved given the limited resources."

DiNapoli declined to estimate the economic impact of Sandy, except to say that it will be more than that associated with Hurricane Irene, which cost state and local governments more than $1.2 billion in recovery costs.

A forecasting firm called IHS Global Insight estimated the storm caused $20 billion worth of property damage and between $10 and $30 billion in lost business.