Broad Coalition Urges Cuomo to Enact Transit Lockbox

If not for Albany’s theft of $260 million in dedicated transit tax revenues over the past two years, the sweeping service cuts enacted by the MTA in 2010 might have been avoided. Transit riders can’t afford a repeat. With the MTA on track to take on even more debt, squeezing its operating budget for years to come, the transit system needs to retain all the funding that’s supposed to go toward transit.

“It is misleading the fare-paying public to divert revenue from the MTA to be used for other programs. I hope the governor signs the bill.” – Denise Richardson, General Contractors Association

Earlier this summer, Democrat Jim Brennan and Republican Marty Golden carried the transit lockbox bill through the state legislature. The legislation would make it tougher to pull off future transit raids. Now a broad coalition of business, labor, environmental, good government and transit leaders have come together to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the bill into law.

The bill would prevent the governor from unilaterally raiding dedicated transit taxes. But since the vast majority of recent transit raids have been slipped into budgets passed by the state legislature, the more important provisions let a little sunshine into the budget process. Thanks to new disclosure requirements, the legislature wouldn’t be able to steal from transit riders without getting caught. As Pete Donahue argued in a column this morning, the transit lockbox bill will make it that much harder for Albany to put its hand in transit riders’ pockets and then turn around and blame the MTA for any cuts.

In their letter to Cuomo, the coalition points out that a full quarter of the state’s residents rely on the transit system to get to work, meaning every raid-induced cut to the system is a blow to the state’s economic competitiveness. They argue that allowing raids to continue would be inconsistent with Cuomo’s promise to bring good government and responsible budgeting to Albany. Perhaps most importantly, they say that selling taxes and fees to the public as dedicated to transit, then turning around and spending the revenues elsewhere is a breach of faith with the taxpayers of New York State.

“It is misleading the fare-paying public and it’s misleading everyone who is concerned about the MTA’s finances to divert revenue from the MTA to be used for other programs that are not related to transit and transportation,” said Denise Richardson, the managing director of the General Contractors Association. “I hope that the governor signs the bill.”

“Every dollar taken from mass transit results in a dollar cut from service or maintenance. This hurt riders with higher fares, diminished service, or both,” said TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen. “The ‘Lock Box’ legislation is an easy, zero-cost way for the Governor to declare his support for public transportation in New York.  It doesn’t raise taxes or create any monetary hardship on anyone.”

“The legislation is necessary because under the current procedures, the state budget office can transfer funds that are raised from so-called dedicated sources, especially from the state gasoline tax, and put it into the general fund,” said New York Building Congress President Dick Anderson. “The Building Congress believes that dedicated transportation funds should be used for infrastructure investment.”

Here’s the letter and the full list of signatories:

  • Larry Littlefield

    It occurs to me that many of the undersigned did their own MTA raids on behalf of their constituencies.

    Pensions were retroactively enhanced even as most workers lost retirement benefits, and there was a strike for a 20/50 pension plan to replace 25/55.

    The addition of fare discounts led to huge cuts in the average fare for a period of years, with accusations of “two sets of books” to apply political pressure for the MTA to keep borrowing.

    And the cost of capital projects as charged to the MTA by the construction industry has also soared, in some cases double or more since 1995 for similar work.

    In addition, there have been similar raids on the state’s “trust fund” for roads, even as a number of tolls were removed and the gas tax has been kept down.

    As we all know, despite extensive dedicated funds, the MTA does not have enough. And that’s because of the biggest raid of all — all the money going to pay debts not for new improvements but just for past maintenance.  And retirement benefits for work done in the past, not work being done today.  Absent those costs from the past, and with a reversal of the “everybody wins” deals of the past, the MTA could probably get by on its existing dedicated funds.

  • Larry Littlefield

    If you are wondering why I’m being so churlish, it’s because I suspect the following:

    “See, we stopped the MTA from losing $130 million per year, we’re transit heroes!  So if ongoing maintenance of the system declines, it must be because the MTA has two sets of books!”

  • JK

    Taking special transit taxes and spending them on other things is bad. It’s not complicated. If the government creates a special transit tax to keep transit going, that money should be spent on transit.

  • Nicolo Macchivelli

    2/3 of the comments belong to LL, therefor, there has to be an obligatory attack on worker’s pension rights.
     
    That TWU Local 100 asked for a 20/50 as part of their bargaining position (alert to new urbanists, unions often demand positions they ultimately do not settle for, maybe they’ll even ask for it in this round, who knows?) with the New York State Legislature concurrent with the last several rounds of bargaining does not mean that this particular position was agreed to by the Legislature or the Authority. Accordingly, that is not really part of the problem, although Larry seems inclined to mix it in with actual problems that the unions, and advocates,  may or may not support.

    And if one House of the Legislature happened to agree with a 20/50 pension (after all it is not that different from the cop’s and firemen’s pensions) so what?  It didn’t pass ten years ago so it won’t pass now.  Hopefully Larry can get a good night’s sleep.

    In practical terms the transit unions did get what Larry refers to as “retroactively enhanced” pensions.  What that has to do with a 20/50 going forward (or backward for that matter) and how it is different than the other city and state unions or how it didn’t involve sacrificed wages is lost on me (but what could I know anyway?).

    Larry’s inablility to let go of bargaining positions that are at root none of his business clouds the otherwise useful elements of his criticism an aligns him with those, like Governor Walker who will rally around the flag of no pensions for anybody.  If that is the flag you want to rally around, enjoy yourself.  I won’t be there.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “That TWU Local 100 asked for a 20/50 as part of their bargaining position (alert to new urbanists, unions often demand positions they ultimately do not settle for, maybe they’ll even ask for it in this round, who knows?) with the New York State Legislature concurrent with the last several rounds of bargaining does not mean that this particular position was agreed to by the Legislature.”
    It passed twice at least, unanimously.  Pataki vetoed it.  And then the strike.  So they didn’t do it, and thus there share of the damage is lower than in the 1970s, and the debt share is larger, and they have yet to sell out future members as the other unions have.

    And they were bargaining with the politicians in exchange for political support.  No one else was being offered anything in exchange.  So yes, they are part responsible for where we are, as are riders whose fares went down with the cost deferred.  The money the MTA no longer has didn’t disappear into a bonfire in Albany.

    Across our society, we are dealing with the allocation of the consequences of past future selling, which is why politics is getting so nasty.  No one wants to talk about the past future selling now, but unless people do so, there is no possibility of fairness in the allocation of the losses.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “That TWU Local 100 asked for a 20/50 as part of their bargaining position (alert to new urbanists, unions often demand positions they ultimately do not settle for, maybe they’ll even ask for it in this round, who knows?) with the New York State Legislature concurrent with the last several rounds of bargaining does not mean that this particular position was agreed to by the Legislature.”
    It passed twice at least, unanimously.  Pataki vetoed it.  And then the strike.  So they didn’t do it, and thus there share of the damage is lower than in the 1970s, and the debt share is larger, and they have yet to sell out future members as the other unions have.

    And they were bargaining with the politicians in exchange for political support.  No one else was being offered anything in exchange.  So yes, they are part responsible for where we are, as are riders whose fares went down with the cost deferred.  The money the MTA no longer has didn’t disappear into a bonfire in Albany.

    Across our society, we are dealing with the allocation of the consequences of past future selling, which is why politics is getting so nasty.  No one wants to talk about the past future selling now, but unless people do so, there is no possibility of fairness in the allocation of the losses.

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