Yesterday, a group of Assembly members and advocates took Governor Cuomo to task for the $40 million transit raid in his budget proposal. The legislators unveiled a letter [PDF] urging Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to restore the funds in the legislative budget, due for a vote on March 12.
In the executive budget, Cuomo wants to take $40 million in dedicated transit revenue to pay for MTA bonds the state had promised to pay off. In addition, the governor’s financial plan includes annual raids of at least $20 million for the foreseeable future.
The governor argues the transfer isn’t a raid because the money is going to pay off bonds that support the MTA, but John Raskin of Riders Alliance said that Cuomo is breaking a long-standing promise by the state. “The state agreed to help the MTA by supporting bonds,” he said. “What the governor is doing now is saying that the state will no longer pay for all of those bonds that were supposed to help the MTA and instead, we’ll take money out of the MTA’s budget to pay for it.”
Using MTA money instead of state money to pay the bonds effectively creates new money on the state’s ledger. “The governor is proposing to take taxes that now pay for bonds, and use it to pay for something else, like to help pay for tax cuts,” Assembly Member Richard Gottfried said. “However you slice it, it’s a $40 million cut to the transit system, and that’s wrong.”
“That is money the MTA could otherwise use to restore service that was cut in 2010, to keep fares more affordable, because there are fare hikes expected in 2015 and 2017,” Raskin said. Other speakers want to improve service affected by a major round of cuts in 2010. Assembly members Michael DenDekker and Nily Rozic of Queens said the $40 million could be used to improve outer-borough buses.
Cuomo has not eliminated the transit raid in his recent budget amendments, so it is up to the state legislature to take action. The letter to Silver urges him to remove the transit raid from the legislature’s budget proposal before it receives a vote on March 12. “We’re hoping that the speaker will agree with us, and we’ll find out very shortly in the next couple days,” Assembly Member Jim Brennan said. “We’re hoping the Senate will do so as well.”
Brennan, who rated the governor a B-minus on transit, added that he would be again pushing for a lockbox bill this year. The legislation would require disclosure any time Albany attempts to divert dedicated transit funds to the state’s general fund. Cuomo vetoed a transit lockbox bill last year.
“When we set up taxes to fund mass transit, we want those taxes to fund mass transit,” Raskin said.