With Governor Cuomo’s first executive budget set to be released, tomorrow is an important day for transit riders. We’ll find out whether the new governor will continue Albany’s practice of stealing dedicated transit funds to plug budget holes elsewhere, try again to reduce the state’s meager contribution to student MetroCards to nothing, or decide instead to balance the state’s enormous deficit without putting that burden on the still-struggling MTA.
Tomorrow’s budget is expected by all to be brutal. With the state facing a $10 billion budget shortfall, cuts will be both broad and deep — especially since Cuomo is expected to shun $5 billion in revenue by allowing the state’s current higher-income tax bracket to expire. Part of the gap is expected to be bridged by re-purposing revenue from transit taxes, in what state comptroller Tom DiNapoli has referred to as a “fiscal shell game.”
The Daily News’ Pete Donohue is reporting that Cuomo will again take funds specifically dedicated for transit and use them to pay for other pieces of the state budget. Previous raids stole enough from transit riders to pay for all of last year’s once-in-a-generation subway and bus cuts.
(One quibble with Donohue’s otherwise excellent piece: What Cuomo’s likely to do won’t really be a “reduction in MTA funding.” That would be the case if these were discretionary funds like the state once provided, but those have almost been cut back to almost nothing, replaced with money from dedicated revenue streams. Albany isn’t giving less of its money to the MTA, but taking the MTA’s money away from it.)
Donohue’s source suggests that Cuomo’s raids will be small enough that neither further fare hikes nor service cuts will be necessary. It’s not entirely clear how that’s possible, however. Every time Albany reaches into the MTA’s pocket, the money has to come from somewhere. Further layoffs? A new kind of fiscal sleight-of-hand? One way or another, transit riders will have to pay.