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Conservation Voters Give Legislature “B” Grade on Transportation

The state legislature earned a solid B on sustainable transportation issues this term, according to a report card issued Wednesday by the New York League of Conservation Voters. Legislators earned top marks for passing complete streets legislation and a transit funding lockbox, but were penalized for their continued attacks on the MTA's budget.

Transportation was one of four issue areas covered by the NYLCV scorecard, which can be read in full above. Since the group can endorse candidates for elected office, while no New York group focused solely on transportation can, their prioritization of these issues adds political heft to transportation advocacy efforts.

The NYLCV grade is based on four goals. The group wanted the legislature to stop stealing dedicated funds from transit riders, pass lockbox legislation to make future raids more difficult, protect the payroll mobility tax, and pass complete streets legislation.

For passing the lockbox and the complete streets bills, legislators earned an A. The State Senate brought down the legislature's score by voting to phase out the payroll tax; because that proposal went nowhere in the Assembly, overall the legislature earned a C on that issue. For taking another $100 million from the MTA for use elsewhere in the budget, Albany earned a D.

A few of NYLCV's priorities from earlier this year didn't make it into the final scorecard. Notably, a Cuomo campaign plan to create a smart growth competitive grant program and a call for finding new revenue to pay for the MTA's unfunded capital plan were both included in the group's January policy agenda, but were not scored in Wednesday's document. The year is only halfway through, of course.

It is striking that, when it comes to Albany and transit legislation, sustainable transportation advocates are forced to stay on the defensive. The two transit-related provisions were only about protecting what is already supposed to go to transit riders, and Albany couldn't even pull that off in full. In 2010, the NYLCV candidate questionnaire avoided asking about transit funding entirely, on the grounds that there just wasn't any hope of forward progress. That dynamic will have to change fast; the MTA's capital program will be largely unfunded as of the end of the year.

As the Tri-State Transportation Campaign points out on its blog, Cuomo's signature is still needed to turn the complete streets and lockbox bills -- as well as important legislation like the city's livery taxi plan and a bill enabling cities to set up land banks to deal with vacant and abandoned properties -- into law. All eyes now turn to the governor's mansion.

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