Cuomo’s Budget Extender Is a Big Slap in the Face to Transit Riders

Governor Cuomo's budget pinches pennies for the MTA while lavishing funds on widening the Van Wyck.
Governor Cuomo's budget pinches pennies for the MTA while lavishing funds on widening the Van Wyck.

Governor Cuomo is lavishing billions on his pet economic development projects without taking any steps in his budget to restore the health of the New York City transit system.

While budget negotiations drag on in Albany, Cuomo has still managed to impose his priorities via a two-month “extender” enacted earlier this week that reduces state support to the MTA operating budget by $65 million.

In doing so, Cuomo has broken his promise to allocate $320 million annually to the MTA to make up for cuts in payroll tax revenue. The extender, which the governor can unilaterally control, allocated $244 million, a $65 million cut compared to the previous year [PDF, page 135]. That’s $65 million which won’t be spent to upgrade flagging subway and bus service that’s losing riders.

Transit advocates had assembled a coalition of 65 lawmakers from both houses of the state legislature to push for the funding to be restored. But momentum in the legislature seems to have gone off track. Instead of restoring $65 million to the MTA operating budget, legislation introduced in the State Senate this morning [PDF, page 449] would direct that amount to the agency’s capital program.

But even that could be a phantom promise — $65 million in debt, not direct state support. The proof will be in Albany’s revenue bill, which has yet to be drafted.

“Until the state actually disburses the money it has appropriated to the MTA capital plan, the extra $65 million in capital is monopoly money as far as we’re concerned,” said Jaqi Cohen of the Straphangers Campaign.

Either way, the $65 million pales in comparison to the billions of dollars Cuomo has set aside for pet projects under the banner of “economic development” — including $564 million to expand the Van Wyck Expressway.

New York derives much of its economic strength from the city’s subways and buses. Instead of using his budget to ensure that these systems can continue to support jobs and growth, Cuomo is drawing down support for transit while making a splash with airports, highways, and convention centers.