As Deadline Approaches, Will Cuomo Sign or Veto Transit Lockbox Bill?

This afternoon, a coalition of more than 200 groups sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo [PDF] asking him to sign the transit lockbox bill, which would help safeguard dedicated transit funds by requiring the state to disclose the impact of any raids on transit agency budgets. The pressure is on: The governor has until the middle of next week to sign or veto the legislation.

Time is running out for Andrew Cuomo to stand for transparency and against transit raids. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/saeba/4015439957/lightbox/##saebaryo/Flickr##

The clock is ticking because although the bill unanimously passed both the Senate and Assembly in June, it was only officially called up to Cuomo’s desk on Friday, starting a review period that gives the governor until next Wednesday to make a decision.

In 2011, a similar bill that covered only the MTA passed the legislature but was gutted at the governor’s request during a special session late in the year. Advocates are hopeful that the new bill, which covers all transit agencies statewide, will benefit from a renewed public focus on transit investment after Hurricane Sandy — as well as broad support in both the legislature and among transit, business, labor, environmental, social justice, and good government organizations.

“We expect either a veto or a signature,” Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Nadine Lemmon said. “As far as I know, he only has those two options.”

While only a constitutional amendment can expressly prohibit budget raids, the lockbox bill would add a measure of transparency so that the governor and legislature would have to say exactly what will happen to transit service as a result of their budget maneuvers. With the full costs known up front, advocates hope transit raids would become less common.

“I’ve had legislators say to me, ‘If I knew this bus line was going to be cut, I would’ve never voted for it,'” Lemmon said. “It’s like voting for stuff with a blindfold on.”

Lemmon credited labor groups for building strong support for the lockbox bill in the legislature and the New York City Council, and hoped that the business effects would get the governor’s attention. The coalition today specifically cited Kawasaki, Bombardier, Alstom, and Nova Bus manufacturing operations in New York state, which depend in large part on orders from transit agencies across the state.

“You can get such a diverse coalition behind transit,” Lemmon said, adding that she is confident about the bill’s strong support this year when compared with 2011, pointing to coalition members such as AARP, the General Contractors Association, and the New York State AFL-CIO. “This time around, we’re hearing more from the transit providers themselves,” she said, adding that upstate newspapers have also urged the governor to sign the bill.

“It’s not just an impact on service; it’s an impact on job creation,” said Bob Zerrillo, policy director of the New York Public Transit Association, which represents both transit agencies and manufacturers. “This money does go back into the economy that goes back and sustains jobs.”

The transit lockbox bill isn’t the only transportation funding issue on the table, and advocates are watching how Cuomo approaches the bill currently on his desk. The MTA’s capital program is looming on the horizon. And, even with a TIFIA loan in hand, the state is on the hook for billions of dollars going to the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

“He’s facing a situation where all of the transportation funding streams are up against a wall,” Lemmon said. “The transit lockbox bill is a promise to the voters, and it’s a promise to the taxpayers.”

Streetsblog has asked the governor’s office if he intends to sign or veto the legislation. We have not received a response.

  • JK

    This is a transparency bill. A governor who wants more fiscal transparency and government accountability will sign this bill.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’ll say it again. The damage from the past is so great, the worst thing that could happen is for Cuomo to sign the bill and then say “see — I funded transit.” And then ignore the upcoming MTA capital plan.

    That is clearly what the state legislators have in mind.

  • JK

    Larry, there’s not much worry about that. There are billions of reasons that the MTA capital plan will have plenty of support, regardless of what happens with this bill. Capital plan stakeholders know this and support the bill. Regardless, the capital plan writing is already on the wall. Without new revenue, the MTA is going to have to borrow all of the money. The only question is how big the plan will be beyond core state of good repair. This upcoming capital plan is probably the last time MTA can pay for the plan solely with borrowing.

  • Perry Cole

    What ever decision he makes, lets hope it turns out to be in the favor and support of public interest. valet parking gatwick

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