Governor Andrew Cuomo and the leadership of the state legislature added insult to injury last night, neutering the transit lockbox bill even after they put hundreds of millions in dedicated transit revenue at risk. While lockbox language did make it into the omnibus legislation passed last night, the governor’s office stripped out the meaningful provisions and added a giant loophole.
“It’s eviscerating our bill,” said Lorrie Smith, legislative director for Assembly Member James Brennan, the lockbox’s sponsor along with State Senator Marty Golden. “It completely removes the impact statement requirement and it allows the governor to declare an emergency and take whatever money he wants subject to legislative removal, which is what we have now.”
Since no law short of a constitutional amendment could completely stop future legislatures from raiding the MTA’s dedicated funds, the most important provision in the lockbox bill required the creation of a “diversion impact statement” whenever a raid was commenced. The statement would have clearly detailed how much was stolen from transit riders and estimated the impact on transit riders’ fares and service. That sunshine provision — which ought to have been a favorite of a governor who campaigned on transparency — was stripped out last night.
Smith said that Brennan, the bill’s sponsor, was surprised to find the bill destroyed. He only saw the language yesterday afternoon, she said, hours before the bill was passed.
What motivated the last-minute changes? “This is what the governor negotiated,” Smith said. “We really don’t know.”
Smith promised that Brennan would reintroduce his bill in its full form next year.
Coming on top of the massive cut to the MTA payroll tax — a move which could cost the MTA up to $320 million dollars a year over time — the effective veto of the lockbox bill caps off a political deal that has threatened transit service at every turn.
Transit advocates, good government groups, labor unions and construction associations all blasted the dismantling of the lockbox bill. “Our groups are disappointed that Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver used this special session to effectively nullify the provisions of the transit ‘lockbox’ bill that was overwhelmingly passed during the regular session,” said a statement released jointly by the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Citizens Committee for NYC, Common Cause/NY, the General Contractors Association, the League of Women Voters of NY State, NRDC, the NYS Council of Machinists, NYLCV, Reinvent Albany, the Straphangers Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, TSTC and TWU Local 100. “We do not support the substitute legislation passed in this special session. It does not constrain future raids on transit funds and deletes the requirement that the impacts of the diversion of transit dedicated funds be reported.”
It’s worth remembering that every member of the State Assembly and every member of the State Senate voted for the original, stronger lockbox legislation. Even without a strong lockbox, the members of the legislature shouldn’t be allowed to renege on their stated support for keeping dedicated transit funding dedicated to transit.