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: