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Public Statements

Extending the Economic and Social Ladders to Success

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. TONKO. Thank you, Mr. Garamendi, for leading us in this very important hour of discussion.

As I listened to Representative Pallone speak about the disaster in his district and across the map of New Jersey and now into New York City and Long Island and great portions of New York State, it was shades of the not-so-distant past that came to mind. And we're still doing recovery from the storm of August, the flooding of Irene and Lee in August of 2011, which impacted my district severely. There were human lives that were lost, property that was damaged, homes that were swept away into the river. Everything for which people had ever worked taken from them. Drastic situations. So as we do our work here in Washington, we need to make certain that on this House floor there is advocacy for the response to these given situations.

Already the price tag is coming forth from the leadership back home. Governor Cuomo, for instance, suggesting the price, the impact has now steadily risen. At first snapshot, you cannot begin to comprehend all of the damage and all of the aspects and dynamics of recovery that will be required. And now we are looking at something like $30 billion that impacts a State in a very severe way, disrupts service and electric power that is disrupted, commerce that's frozen in place, human misery that's incalculable where lives have been impacted forever by the forces of Sandy.

So, you know, this is a revisitation, so to speak, as we are still recovering. It was a fight on this floor to make certain that disaster aid moneys were brought into play so we could respond with compassion and dignity and integrity to these given situations.

So the lessons here are to go forward as we deal with this given fiscal issue at hand, to go forth with the priorities that are the most urgent and important and meaningful in putting back the fabric of these communities.

There is a need to work closely with an outlay of resources to FEMA, making certain that disaster aid is at the level that will be required here, working with other agencies that are as significant in the equation--the Department of Transportation, the Small Business Administration--working with HUD, making certain that all of these various elements are addressed in our sense of advocacy here.

The human misery, again, is impacting. It is a situation that now brings to mind the fact that in upstate New York, and even in metro New York City and the Long Island area and in New Jersey, these are atypical situations for hurricanes to travel that far north. To have something in upstate New York do the sort of hurricane damage that we witnessed last year is not typical.

So the nomenclature of a ``100-year storm'' is just ludicrous. It doesn't speak to what's really happening. We've had several storms in a 20-year period that were dubbed 100-year storms. So right there, the logic and, again, the nomenclature is misrepresenting the facts at hand. We are getting more and more repeats here of situations from disasters driven by mother nature. And as Representative Pallone made mention, a 500-year storm is what they were dubbing the case to be in the 21st Congressional District that I now represent in the State of New York.

So there is a need here for us to be cognizant of those responses to disaster situations but also to look at the bigger, bigger public policy issue--that of the environment and that of climate change and global warming. We need to be cognizant of our stewardship over our planet. We need to make certain that if these data that are compiled are telling us that there is increased precipitation, for instance, over a given Catskill watershed in the area just south of my district, let's be aware of that. Let's know what's happening here, and let's respond accordingly to sound public policy as it relates to the environment and our stewardship of the environment, and let's be cognizant of the needs in responsiveness measure.

I know that you want to add to this discussion here, so I'll just say this. In a time where government perhaps has been hit hard by critics out there who are suggesting there's no role for the public sector here, we need to reduce government, I can tell you that people were addressing ``the war room,'' as they designated it, putting together all of the professionals and academics and people who operate these programs and are well trained. Watching that compilation, that collaborative effort of these professionals who are responding through public sector employment to the needs of these given communities is powerful, and it speaks to what I think the public asks for and deserves--sound, effective government. But this option of ``no government,'' I know people were reaching out. They wanted that partnership because they were in such immense pain and were at a loss for how and where to move.

So, Representative Garamendi, thank you very much for bringing the focus to what should be our staunch advocacy for people in need.


Mr. TONKO. Sure.

Well, absolutely, some of these programs are welcomed news. Two points I would make--and I would just like to go back for a moment to the sense of community that is expressed at times like these tragedies. It's not government as a stand-alone solution--we understand that--but it's an essential part, and we want effective government.

We also have had a private sector response and volunteerism. I mean, the sense of volunteerism, that sense of American spirit comes right into the core of all of this expression. And you begin to understand the greatness of this Nation through some of the darkest hours that we share. So that point has to be made clear.

But to your point about infrastructure improvement, infrastructure bank bill, the transportation bill that provides for adequate amounts of resources, putting together these bonds that are unique in design so that we can have the resources to make it happen, I absolutely agree.

I contend that as we get impacted by some of the storm and Mother Nature occurrences, we need to make certain we've reached the facts. If data are telling us that we're going to have additional activity, two things need to happen. You need short-term and long-term response. You do not rebuild exactly as if you had. You need to retrofit that to the projected impacts of now a newer, stronger force of Mother Nature.

Secondly, we need that global policy. We need policy that speaks to the environmental outcomes. If we're ignoring that, we're going to see a hasty buildup, I believe, of some of these situations, which is only going to drain our budgets. So, it's time to be academic and to be economically wise and effective here.

I think that's what voters have asked for, that's what the electorate asked for, that's what the people of the country demand and deserve: a sound use of resources. To go forward and build it in a way that provides for a more improved, more effective outcome.

You look at some of this infrastructure, and it reminds you when it's taken away how significant it is to our quality of life and our profitability as a Nation. You know, a grid system that connects power to the sources that require it, a communications network that allows us to dialogue and build our profitability. The infrastructure that moves freight, our roads, bridges, highways. You talk about the damage done by salt-infested waters.

Again, it's incomprehensible about what that score goes to in terms of impact when you think of a subway system, rail system, energy generators, and all of the power supplies within the utility infrastructure and communications. It's just important for us to learn from these effects of the storms.

If we can put together concepts like an infrastructure bank, if we can put together the bond activities that will respond more compassionately and more effectively and more urgently to a given situation, then let's prioritize where we need to prioritize so as to make things happen.

The infrastructure needs--we've talked about them outside the context of the ravages of Mother Nature. Water and sewer systems that just need to be upgraded because of the age of some of these systems and the new technology that has been introduced where we can do it in energy efficiency formats where you save operating costs for local governments.

Now's the time, when you've taken this blow, perhaps we can then retrofit to do state-of-the-art that will mean less costly operating expenses for local entities and NGOs, nongovernment organizations, that allows for everyone to win and the taxpayer dollar is stretched in positive, favorable terms to be a more effective outcome for everyone in the equation.


Mr. TONKO. Sure. Let me do this quickly.

I think we have it within our intellect to create the outcomes that are strong, that will reinforce those in need, and still go forward and address the critical economic times. I can tell you, because the memory is so fresh, people did not want to hear about offsets and Tea Party mentality when they were without last year. They lost everything for which they ever worked. They are endorsing, now, a balanced approach.

Take a scalpel to the situation. Don't wield an axe. Come up with sensitivity, with an effective response using academics. Deal with policy strengths in the long-term picture outcome, and get us our immediate assistance so we can rebuild and do it in cutting-edge fashion so we will have learned from this experience and come out even stronger.

I think in general, in a bigger picture framework, our best days lie ahead if we approach these issues with sound academics and with the skillfulness and the compassion required.

Thank you so much for leading us in this hour of discussion.


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