Don’t Believe Team Cuomo’s Spin on the MTA “Lockbox”

This is rich. When Mayor Bill de Blasio told the Daily News he’s wary of upping the city’s contribution to the MTA capital program because Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly raided dedicated transit funds, MTA Chair Tom Prendergast said don’t worry, you can trust the governor:

Photo: <a href="" target="_blank">Marc A. Hermann for MTA/Flickr</a>
Photo: Marc A. Hermann for MTA/Flickr

“This is nothing more than rhetoric from a mayor who refuses to support mass transit. The state has stepped up and committed to fund $8.3 billion toward our capital program in a ‘lockbox’ that will only be used for capital expenses. There are no more excuses,” said MTA President Thomas Prendergast.

Don’t buy the spin. Prendergast’s boss, Andrew Cuomo, has refused to enact “lockbox” legislation that would require the state to disclose when it raids transit funds to cover other needs in the state budget. The governor remains free to divert revenue from the MTA without explaining the impact or even alerting the public.

The only way to seal off transit funding from Albany interference is through bonding. So maybe that’s what Prendergast means by “lockbox” — the Cuomo administration intends to borrow the $8.3 billion for the capital program, by issuing debt backed either by the state or by revenue from MTA fares. Fare-backed borrowing is the scenario that transit advocates most want to avoid, since it will create pressure for future fare hikes.

In either case, de Blasio’s objections are legit. The governor hasn’t explained where the $8.3 billion he’s promised for the MTA will come from. And if City Hall does contribute money to the capital program, there’s nothing to stop Cuomo from taking advantage by shuffling funds around and padding the state budget thanks to the city’s largesse.

  • bolwerk

    This is silly. Couldn’t the city just create its own lockbox legislation? Hell, I doubt they need legislation. Set aside the money into a city owned account and draw on it for specific appropriation requests the MTA makes. It doesn’t stop Cuomo from fucking us, but it does deprive him of, uh, “fungibility.”

    Not that I think the city should pay much more, because it shouldn’t. Not without the state cutting us a break elsewhere anyway.

  • Mark Walker

    If Cuomo doesn’t want to do this part of his job, fine. Turn the MTA over to the city. Make it a city agency. Give the mayor complete control of the dedicated MTA revenue streams that Cuomo has been raiding to balance the state budget. Put up or shut up, Mr. Governor.

  • Mark Walker

    What if Cuomo sees these specific city appropriations, reduces the state’s contribution accordingly, and stages further raids on dedicated MTA revenue streams under his control?

  • Joe R.

    Easier solution—NYC residents and businesses stop paying any and all NYS taxes. This way there’s no need to get transit “aid” from Albany, which is really just getting back some of the money we send there. Maybe do something similar with the federal government, too. Of course, without NYC the rest of the state will wither and die but that’s not our problem. Albany has treated NYC like the proverbial stepchild in a mental institution for as long as I can remember. NYC would do just fine as its own city-state along the lines of Singapore.

  • bolwerk

    Would make it tough to pay your city taxes given the state collects on behalf of the city!

  • bolwerk

    I alluded to that possibility when I said it doesn’t stop him from fucking us. But since he promised x billion more, he can’t really do that without looking like a hypocrite.

    TBF, I should credit BdB where credit is due. Perhaps the comment is actually good politicking, which is rare from him, and even contains the kernel of truth that Cuomo is open to harming us to meet his own ends.

  • Komanoff

    I’m actually more interested in Cuomo’s supposed promise not to borrow to fund his $8.3B contribution to the capital plan. I’d love help in tracking it down.

    What I’ve got is the D News editorial today (9/18), saying “The governor on Thursday evening ruled out MTA borrowing and said his plan called for drawing the $8.3 billion out of the state general fund over 10 years — a commitment that should relieve de Blasio’s worry about a threat to the fare.” Here’s the editorial:

    But where and to whom did Cuomo say what the editorial says he said?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Kind of like the Social Security lockbox, eh?

    It will be interesting to see what happens when there is no longer a way of covering it up or putting it off and younger generations find out just what has been done to them.

    What are those older folk still around and in charge going to say? That it’s all the fault of the Chinese and Mexicans, and all we need it make them give us a better deal? No one would believe that, would they?

  • Larry Littlefield

    It would be good if he meant it. But there is a problem with that — he isn’t a dictator.

    I have more faith in the Mayor, Governor, and City Council than I do in the New York State Legislature. It’s hiding in the shadows, just where it likes to be.

  • Matt

    From my own personal experience, I’ve seen this man steal staffers from elsewhere and leave them on their own department’s payroll for years. (Being vague on purpose). There is no ‘lockbox’. Maybe there’ll appear to be one, but he’ll be stealing from it in some fashion or another in any way he can without drawing attention to it.


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