Legislators Counter Flailing Cuomo’s $145M MTA Raid With Better Idea: $0 MTA Raid

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

The state legislature moved quickly to take advantage of Gov. Cuomo’s weakened position, delivering its own budget proposal on Sunday that undoes Cuomo’s proposed $145-million raid on MTA operating funds and offers a rebuke of sorts to the Big Dog’s habit of treating the transit agency like a piggy bank.

Cuomo’s budget shenanigans were revealed in February, when analysts noticed that the executive budget proposal suggested taking $145 million from dedicated MTA operating funds — including $107 million from the Metropolitan Mass Transit Operating Assistance Fund, a traditional target of Cuomo budget raids. Even though MTA leadership bizarrely declined to cry foul, Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) pledged that the state Senate wouldn’t allow the governor to pilfer the funds, a promise that’s been upheld so far.

The budget proposal from the Legislatures is just a step in the negotiations over the budget, which is supposed to be completed by April 1, but advocates hailed the move as one that will help riders avoid a delayed fare hike that the MTA previously said could have raised $153 million.

“By restoring [the] dedicated funds for public transit, which were raided by Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget for other purposes, the legislature is taking an important step toward saving riders from the next fare hike,” said Riders Alliance Policy and Communications Director Danny Pearlstein.

The purported reasoning for the transit raid was that it was part of a shared pain in all areas of state funding because of coronavirus-related damage to the state economy and budget. But the state’s economic picture turned out to be rosier than expected, and the Biden Administration fired the money cannon at New York State’s general fund to the tune of $12.5 billion in federal fun bucks.

But that rescue package still hasn’t settled the fate of this current budget year’s transit raid. Early in the pandemic, the governor announced a series of “withholdings,” which were potential budget cuts in “aid to localities” categories that could have reached as high as 20 percent. Although the full 20 percent never came to pass, the state did announce that it was holding onto $98 million in dedicated transit funds. Good government groups are still waiting for the state to reveal the exact shape of the budget plan when the withholdings are locked in, which the governor is supposed to do by law.

“The missing piece is all the money still missing from this year,” said Rachael Fauss, the senior research analyst at Reinvent Albany. “We still don’t know what’s happening with that, because the governor is still not releasing plans for this budget and the legislature still hasn’t had anything to react to. There’s 15 days left in the fiscal year and we don’t have a plan for formal cuts or raids. By law he has to give the legislature 10 days to respond to it, so are they running out the clock and they’ll release a plan 10 days before March 31? Or will he not follow the law at all, in which case what was the point of creating an adjustment process if the governor was going to do whatever he wants?”

The legislature’s move can’t be seen outside the current Albany climate, in which legislators are finding it easier to push back against a governor on the defensive for (deep breath now): hiding the true coronavirus death toll in nursing homes; threatening a lawmaker who criticized that purported cover up; allegedly having an aide email a then-employee to let her know she looked like his girlfriend’s more-attractive sister; allegedly asking a female subordinate almost 40 years his junior if she ever had sex with older men; allegedly covering up structural issues that threatened the integrity of the Mario Cuomo Bridge; attempting to kiss a woman almost 40 years his junior at a wedding; allegedly groping an employee at the Executive Mansion; and generally running a workplace that more and more former employees are calling dysfunctional, sexist and chaotic.