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="https://www.flickr.com/photos/mtaphotos/15359876605/" 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.

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