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Will Cuomo Protect Transit Riders and Sign the Transit Lockbox Bill?

4:21 PM EDT on June 24, 2011

Led by Assembly Member James Brennan, the State Assembly joined the Senate and took a strong stand in support of transit riders this afternoon, passing the transit lockbox bill by a unanimous vote of 98-0. Speaker Sheldon Silver came out in support of the legislation last night, putting it on a smooth path through the Assembly. The question now is whether Cuomo will sign the bill -- and there are a few indications that he may not.

Over the last two years, Albany has stolen $260 million in dedicated transit funds from the MTA in order to patch up deficits elsewhere in the budget. As a result, transit riders have absorbed a one-two punch of sweeping service cuts and higher fares.

The lockbox legislation would prevent future raids in two ways. It would prevent the governor from directly raiding the MTA -- something that's only cost the agency $1.3 million -- and make the legislature less likely to raid transit in its budgets by including a set of disclosure requirements to make it clear what the impact of each theft will be on riders.

The bill passed thanks to its chief sponsors, Brennan and Senate Republican Marty Golden, as well as a very strong political coalition that included both labor, notably TWU Local 100, and business groups such as the New York Building Congress.

The effectiveness of their lobbying is apparent when compared to efforts to provide a similar lockbox for SUNY. Though SUNY has also been the subject of Albany raids, language to prevent the state from raiding tuition funds didn't make it into the final bill. The universities will have to rely on Governor Andrew Cuomo's public promises not to continue raiding SUNY.

Notably, Cuomo has refused to make such a promise to transit riders and raided a net $100 million from the MTA in his first budget. Before the Assembly had passed the lockbox bill, an anonymous transit advocate also told Transportation Nation's Jim O'Grady, "We’re hearing that Cuomo is blocking the lockbox bill so that he can retain the ability to steal transit funds. (This is the same Cuomo who ran for governor last year on restoring honesty and ethics to government.)”

We'll find out soon enough whether Cuomo decides to protect transit riders from raids and further service cuts or fare hikes, or whether he'd like to retain the option to use dedicated transit funds as a piggybank. With the bill having passed both houses of the legislature, Cuomo will have to sign or veto the legislation.

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