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State Senate Holds Transit Riders Hostage for Road $$$ [Updated]

4:48 PM EDT on March 13, 2012

When Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his state budget proposal earlier this year, perhaps the best news for transit riders was the inclusion of $770 million to support the next three years of the MTA capital program. The funding would help pay for maintenance and expansion projects without forcing the MTA to borrow quite so much. And the less the MTA borrows, the more your fare pays for train and bus service, not debt. (Of course, while helpful, the $770 million is no substitute for a revenue stream like congestion pricing; the governor's budget still called for raising the MTA debt limit by $7 billion.)

Yesterday the Republican-led State Senate threw a wrench in the governor's transit funding plans, countering Cuomo with a budget proposal that doesn't include the $770 million or the increase in the MTA debt limit. Update: In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos [PDF], MTA Chair Joe Lhota notes that undermining the state's funding for the capital program would also jeopardize a $3 billion low-interest federal loan to complete the East Side Access project, which would benefit Skelos's Nassau constituents most of all.

State Senate Budget Committee Chair John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, said his colleagues want more specifics about which projects the MTA funding would cover, according to the Daily Politics. Meanwhile, details galore about MTA capital program projects are easily retrievable from the MTA website.

The real resistance from upstate legislators seems to arise from old-fashioned political horse trading:

DeFrancisco also expressed concern that funding for upstate road and bridge projects were being treated fairly.

“We don’t have too many MTA trains going to Syracuse,” DeFrancisco said.

Give us the road money, the upstate legislators are saying, or we'll stick it to the transit riders.

What DeFrancisco and other upstate State Senators ignore at their peril is that shortchanging the MTA also sticks it to their own constituents, because the MTA capital program supports thousands of manufacturing jobs in their districts. Every $1 billion of investment in the MTA capital program produces 24,000 jobs, according to Transportation Alternatives.

If upstate legislators are looking to level the playing field between road funding and transit funding, then here's something to ponder: MTA transit riders are now expected to absorb fare hikes every two years; will upstate representatives agree to increase tolls every two years too?

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