MTA Leadership Declines To Fight Gov. Cuomo’s $145M Transit Raid

Caught red-handed by the state Legislature.
Caught red-handed by the state Legislature.

MTA leaders are the only people left in New York who won’t fight Gov. Cuomo.

In response to the news that the governor’s executive budget includes a $145-million raid from dedicated transit funds, MTA executives stuck to the old song and dance that the money is sadly part of an overall budget crunch involving what the state classifies as cuts in “aid to localities.”

“The $145 million is not just hitting the MTA,” agency CFO Bob Foran told reporters on Thursday. “If you recall, the budget director said if they got a certain amount of federal funds, they would do a reduction in aid to localities, about five percent. What’s happening is we’re seeing a proposed reduction in aid to localities, which the MTA is part of, so we’re not being treated any differently than others.”

The answer included a not-so-subtle push for the federal government to give New York State the full $15 billion Gov. Cuomo has asked for lest transit service be cut. And sure enough, Sen. Chuck Schumer said he’s fighting for just that.

“Right now, I am working to deliver another $6 billion-plus, in addition to the $8 billion already delivered for the MTA, that will not just get us through this transit disaster, but energize the whole system for rebirth and revival,” he said, not addressing the raid.

But advocates remain enraged that the MTA is rolling over rather than fighting the governor, especially when the agency is contemplating canceling raises for its workforce that were agreed upon just last year.

“They’re taking the direction from the governor’s office, that’s what’s going on here,” said Reinvent Albany Senior Researcher Rachael Fauss.

According to an analysis of the Executive Budget done by the state Assembly, the governor is proposing to move a total of $145 million out of the MTA budget, most of which is supposed to go to the agency’s devastated operating budget. The biggest portion of the raid — roughly $107 million — comes from the Metropolitan Mass Transit Operating Assistance Fund, a tranche of various tax revenues that’s supposed to flow to mass transit exclusively.

“The intent of dedicated funds are every single dollar that gets raised go to the MTA. This is all part of the governor’s play to show a lot of pain and try to get federal funding for the state. But the MTA’s dedicated funds shouldn’t be a bargaining chip for federal funding because they’re dedicated for the MTA,” said Fauss.

The MTA is also being raided at a time when the shared pain that Foran mentioned isn’t true. Withheld school funding was repaid after being subject to aid to localities cuts.

The Cuomo administration has argued that $145 million is a small amount of the MTA’s overall budget, but it matches up with the amount of money the MTA has said it will lose if it doesn’t raise fares. MTA Board member and International President of the TWU John Samuelsen pointed out that the money could also “add 2,700 bus runs, remove every dangerous subway track defect for 10 years and stop unsafe booth closures.”

Advocates have warned about dedicated fund raids for the better part of a year, starting with a warning that the state’s aid to localities cuts in 2020 was a thinly veiled raid of dedicated funds, and actually a double hit to MTA finances since the tax receipts that make up funds like MMTOA were already drying up to the coronavirus’ impact on the city and state. When the issue first came to light last April, MTA CEO and Chairman Pat Foye said it was “not okay” to raid dedicated funds, but did not comment on Wednesday beyond praising President Biden’s proposed $1.9-trillion stimulus as a boon for cities and states.

The current funding raid is reminiscent of old MTA budget raids that the Cuomo administration did in 2010, 2014 and 2015, the exact kind of moves that led state legislators to pass a transit lockbox law. That law didn’t prevent the governor from raiding mass transit funds, but it did require any raid to come with a statement explaining why it was happening. At the moment, the governor has not issued a such a statement.

But if the MTA won’t ask for its money, it still has legislators in Albany who will fight on its behalf.

“While the MTA may incredibly be willing to accept less money to fulfill its mission, dedicated funds should remain dedicated,” said Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris. “I am committed to opposing any effort to appropriate less than what the MTA needs and deserves.”