On Transit Funding, Emperor Cuomo Has No Clothes

If the governor experienced a typical New Yorker's transit commute, he might be more inclined to fund the MTA capital plan, advocates say. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr
Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget includes no new funds for the MTA capital program — a brazen departure from the funding pledge Cuomo made just a few months ago. Transit advocates laid out the broken promises at a press conference in Brooklyn this morning.

Back in October, Cuomo reached an agreement with Mayor de Blasio that the state would contribute $8.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year, $26 billion capital program if the city chipped in $2.5 billion. Cuomo didn’t reveal how the state would meet its obligation, however.

Then earlier this month, Cuomo announced his 2016 transportation agenda at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, committing to “thinking bigger and better and building the 21st century transit system New Yorkers deserve.” Was that the prelude to a big reveal with specifics on the governor’s plan to pay for transit?

Transit advocates say the governor's proposed budget breaks his promise to fund the MTA capital plan. Photo: David Meyer
Transit advocates held Governor Cuomo to his October pledge to fill the gap in the MTA capital plan, funding that’s nowhere to be found in his executive budget. Photo: David Meyer

Nope. The budget Cuomo put forward later that week includes no additional funding for the capital program. The state had previously provided $1 billion to the MTA, leaving a hole of $7.3 billion unaccounted for.

Instead of spelling out where that money will come from, Cuomo’s budget delays any allocations until after the MTA has exhausted other means of paying for the capital program. In vague, non-binding language, the document says the state doesn’t have to meet its obligation until 2026, which would enable Cuomo to kick the can until he’s out of office.

Speaking outside the museum this morning,Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Gene Russianoff of the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, and Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin said Cuomo’s transit commitment was not really a commitment at all.

“That means in reality that Governor Cuomo expects the MTA to borrow money, which then fare payers and toll payers are responsible for, before the state puts in any money of its own,” Raskin said. “A promise years in the future is a weak promise. There’s a real risk that this money will never materialize if the state does not start investing now.”

“Basically, it signals an alarm that funding for the system is precarious and uncertain,” Vanterpool added. “It pushes the state’s pledge potentially into another administration.”

Raskin said the state needs to provide $1.825 billion per year through the completion of the current capital program in 2019. De Blasio has said the city will allocate its portion of the funding in increments proportional to the state’s contributions.

Citing the political challenge, Cuomo has repeatedly rejected the Move NY toll reform plan as a potential source of revenue to plug the gap in the MTA capital program, despite the governor’s own political heft and endorsements for the plan from dozens of local elected officials.

In addition to the press conference today, a coalition of transit advocates, construction interests, and environmental groups called on Cuomo to provide “a much more clearly defined strategy to meet all of our capital needs in the next five years.”

  • dave “paco” abraham

    Let’s be honest… there’s no way any regular Streetsblog reader expected anything different from the governor. Cuomo loves his cars and the MTA riders can go to hell.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Just part of the across the board situation. Cuomo, like many recently elected politicians, inherited disaster from 30 years of Generation Greed politics. Any effort to preserve tomorrow will be extremely painful today, so the smart, self interested move is to kick the can. Christie is doing the same.

    And the MoveNY plan had all the money to be collected over 30 years spent by 2019, deferring disaster a mere five years.

    And it isn’t just about transit. And it isn’t just about NYC, and transit riders from the suburbs. It’s about everything, everywhere.


    And until people understand that and are willing to say so, the future will just get worse and worse and worse.

  • Mark Walker

    Once again, the governor is not fundamentally serious about governing. He’s never given transit riders a reason to vote for him — which is why I’ve never voted for him. The transit system is in for rough times, and when that becomes more obvious, we should call it what it is — the Cuomo Catastrophe. Even after he moves on to run for higher office? Especially when he moves on to run for higher office.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The transit system is in for rough times.”

    Transit systems are in for rough times all over the U.S. Transit ridership has soared all over the U.S.

    How can this be? Want Cuomo to make it better? He’s just trying to skip town before disaster, and not just with regard to mass transit. Like politicians everywhere.

  • Emmily_Litella

    I think you have a point. And unlimited growth is impossible on a finite planet. Conventional politicians can not be expected to do anything beyond keeping business as usual going.

  • Joe R.

    Unfortunately our entire economy and investment system is based on continued growth. Somebody brave needs to invent and implement something entirely new. I’ve had the idea of a system where we recycle virtually everything with energy being the only input. If we use a sustainable energy source, like solar or wind or nuclear, then we can keep going a lot longer. Of course, we’ll still need to lose the ideas of growth. It might be that we’ll have to accept our current standards of living indefinitely, at least until we have the means to cheaply obtain resources from space.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The whole “deal” was just a subterfuge to allow the MTA to keep on signing contracts with no money to pay for them, hiding the crisis.

    No one under the age of 60 has any moral obligation to pay those MTA bonds, or an of the “moral obligation bonds” Generation Greed is dumping on us.

  • Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr.

    LUnless these politicians are taking this seriously when there is a natural disaster in NYC perhaps, such as Hurricane Sandy and several successive winter storms recently. In the future, there will be more extreme weather and sea level rises, in order to make matters worse.

  • Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr.

    That is what we get when out own transportation system was publicly controlled by the government, unlike other, successful, transportation agencies such as London’s Transport, Singapore’s MRT and Hong Komg’s MTR, and they are making a lot of money thanks to their own efficiency through private business and enterprise. I am so jealous on these.

  • Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr.

    I am highly skeptical on MOVE NY and other funding proposals that involves increasing fares, taxes, tolls, and/or other fees and surcharges because there are different kinds of people and their own different kinds of elected officials are opposing these funding proposals. And this due to the NIMBies’ claim that it will cause a major economic burden among the working class, the lower class, and the middle class families and workers. The overall cost of living in NYC goes up much faster than inflation and the wages remain stagnant, despite the majority of the people in NYC are transit users, especially in density populated neighborhoods of NYC.


36 Assembly Members to Cuomo: Stop Playing Games and Fund the MTA

Andrew Cuomo wants New Yorkers to think he’s taken care of the multi-billion dollar funding shortfall for the MTA capital program, even though his new budget allocates no new funds for the MTA. Well, 36 members of the Assembly aren’t buying it. In a letter to Cuomo, Brooklyn Assembly Member Jim Brennan called on the governor to commit $1.825 billion […]

Independent Watchdogs on Cuomo’s MTA Budget: Show Us the Money

Add the Independent Budget Office to the transit advocates and New York City electeds who aren’t buying Governor Andrew Cuomo’s claim that the state has met its commitment to fund the MTA. The IBO sums up the reasons not to take Cuomo at his word in a short brief released this week. In October, Cuomo agreed that the state would contribute $8.3 billion […]
No matter how bad the service gets, transit riders will always have these USB ports.

Cuomo Breaks Another Promise to Transit Riders

Five years ago, Cuomo promised to allocate $320 million annually to the MTA to make up for cutting one of the agency's dedicated revenue streams. At the time, advocates warned that Cuomo wouldn't keep his promise for long. They were right: This year the governor's draft budget calls for a $65 million cut to MTA funding.