Cuomo on MTA Raids: Transit Funds Are “Fungible”

WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein reports on the most troubling sign yet that Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo is not willing to stop Albany’s practice of raiding dedicated transit funds to plug gaps in the state budget. From a press conference yesterday:

Cuomo: “I understand the concern. Everyone — especially in a declining budget environment, where we are now, everyone — we just met with the environmental groups. They’re very concerned that nobody raids the funds that should be going to the environment.

“People who are involved in transit want to make sure nobody raids the funds that are involved in mass transit.  I understand the concerns, and that’s the balance of putting together the budget.”

REPORTER: That means you’re not committed to allowing the money –

Cuomo: “You can’t say — money is fungible to a certain extent. There are a lot of needs the state has to fund and it’s the balancing of those needs that will be done through the budget process.”

Andrew Cuomo appeared to endorse this practice at a press conference yesterday.
Andrew Cuomo appeared to endorse this practice at a press conference yesterday.

These are scary words for transit riders. “Fungibility” is what led to the loss of $160 million in transit funding in just the past 12 months. Taxes collected exclusively downstate for the express purpose of funding transit were re-routed to the state’s general fund.

With Albany looking at another $9 billion budget gap to plug next year, the cycle of transit raids blowing a hole in the MTA budget is primed to start all over again. The people who will pay the steepest price are transit-dependent New Yorkers. The burden of these raids falls on them in the form of higher fares and worse service.

Cuomo could use his executive power to help put a stop to the practice. But his response is at odds with any attempt to honestly reckon with New York state’s fiscal problems. It’s the answer of someone who’s willing to inflict more pain on transit riders in order to paper over state budget dysfunction. Here’s how the office of Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli described this sleight of hand in a report this April [PDF]:

In this fiscal shell game, money is shuffled among hundreds of accounts, creating funding shortfalls in some dedicated funds, hiding deficits in others and using excess revenue in still others to mask General Fund spending growth. This “deficit shuffle” reduces budget transparency, creates funding instability for critical State programs and allows the State to avoid making the difficult decisions needed to effectively align spending with available revenue. Furthermore, it creates a disincentive to agencies to cut costs, because savings in special revenue accounts are simply swept into the General Fund.

When Andrew Cuomo says transit funding is “fungible,” he’s endorsing this Albany shell game.

  • Larry Littlefield

    If the politicians didn’t appoint all the judges, this would be a great subject of a federal lawsuit on equal protection grounds. Basically, there is now a higher state tax level for Downstate New York.

  • Glenn

    I was going to say the same thing Larry. By making all revenue fungible, you virtually eliminate the concept that a specific tax goes to any specific service and thus political support for the tax may shrivel up completely. This is a dangerous game Cuomo is playing. By trying to balance the books he might upend whatever political support there ever was for some of the revenue raisers for transit. I’m tired of my tax dollars going to Syracuse and Mississippi. I want my tax money to stay as local as possible.

  • Yet another day when NYS government makes me want to slit my wrists.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I wonder if the New York City income tax is also fungible, and can be used to pay for spending in other parts of the state (directly, as well as indirectly). The New York City property tax?

  • clever-title

    Albany pols see “MTA” reflected in a mirror and think it says ATM

  • In that case, I’m in favor of repealing the payroll tax.

  • Brandon

    Unbelievable. Does New York want to wind up like states struggling to pay for urban decay and sprawl? (Michigan, New Jersey, and others)

  • This is why I voted almost entirely Green Party in the last election (including Howie Hawkins). Cuomo is no agent of change. NYS Democrats may be marginally better than Republicans in terms of civil liberties, but they are just as prone to bribery, corruption, and kick-backs–lining their pockets while doing favors for their rich and powerful friends–as the Republicans. Look at how many NYC politicians are in Albany and how they continually screw the city they are supposed to represent. It’s sickening.

  • What bothers me is the blatant hypocrisy and lies. Don’t promise me “dedicated funds” and then go spend them on something else. Revenues and budgetary priorities understandably shift in response to changing conditions but it violates the public trust to label pots of money as dedicated when in fact they’re not. At the same time, the problem is so much larger than that lie–one feels that the budgetary priorities themselves are unjust and the money is spent in ways that do not benefit the majority of New York State’s citizenry.

    Such is life in the kleptocracy. It’s amazing how much still manages to function.

  • Larry Littlefield

    How cynical am I. Last year, I was asked to contribute to an extra curricular activity at my child’s high school. I actually asked if there was a possiblity that my donation could be seized and used for the general fund, and although the answer was no, since politicians love “sweeps” I wouldn’t bet against anything.

    Consider that the “sweeping” of all those excess regressive payroll taxes people have been paying since 1983 to “Save Social Security” into the federal general fund is the biggest sweep of all.

    All the extra money went to pay for lower progressive income taxes and more health are spending on today’s seniors. And now they want to do the same deal again — higher payroll taxes and lower benefits (for younger generations only) to “Save Social Security.”

    What matters is values. Transportation is just one manifestation of the values.

  • Joby

    We need an amendment to the NYS constitution to keep dedicated funds dedicated. I think the process in NYS is complicated –
    http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/New_York_Constitution#Constitutional_amendments
    it has to be approved by the AG,
    two successive legislatures have to approve it
    and then the citizenry vote on it

  • Larry Littlefield

    “We need an amendment to the NYS constitution to keep dedicated funds dedicated.”

    You mean like the one that says all debts have to be approved by referedum? Just be sure the language includes the all important “and we’re not kidding” clause.

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