Cuomo Breaks Another Promise to Transit Riders

No matter how bad the service gets, transit riders will always have these USB ports.
No matter how bad the service gets, transit riders will always have these USB ports.

Andrew Cuomo is betting NYC transit riders have short memories.

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. Instead of the MTA receiving that money directly via the Payroll Mobility Tax, which Cuomo cut to appease Republicans in the State Senate, transit riders were supposed to count on an infusion every year from the general fund.

At the time, advocates warned that Cuomo wouldn’t keep his promise for long. They were right.

Cuomo’s draft budget this year calls for reducing his general fund contribution to $244 million, reports the Daily News, a $65 million cut compared to 2016.

The spin from the Cuomo administration is that there is no transit funding cut, because the MTA’s revenues from dedicated taxes (including the remaining payroll tax) are rising more than $65 million. It’s a weak excuse that only highlights how much transit riders lost out when the governor cut the payroll tax in the first place.

By replacing a chunk of payroll tax with a fixed sum five years ago, Cuomo turned a variable revenue source into a static amount. If he had left the payroll tax the way it was, by now it would be sending more than $320 million to the MTA each year.

Instead, today Cuomo is compounding the damage to transit riders. As more funding comes in from the remaining sources of payroll tax revenue, he’s using it to paper over the $65 million he’s yanking away.

Breaking transit funding promises is nothing new for Cuomo. Last year he pledged to fill a $7.3 billion hole in the MTA capital program with “state sources” but never delivered. Instead he set the stage for the MTA to fill the gap with borrowing. The Cuomo administration insists it “secured” funding for the capital plan when in fact the governor did little besides enable more bonding, adding to the agency’s debt burden and saddling transit riders with higher fares.

Transit advocates will be fighting Cuomo’s $65 million transit cut in the state legislature this session. Yesterday, the Riders Alliance was in Albany with Assembly members calling for the funding to be restored in the final budget.

Even within the context of the MTA’s massive $16 billion operating budget, $65 million is nothing to sneeze at. Every transit rider waiting for the agency to speed up bus service, upgrade ancient signals so trains can run more frequently and reliably, or fix broken station elevators probably has some good ideas about how that money could be spent.