As New York State prepares to welcome its new governor with a massive budget crisis, Transit advocates are ramping up their efforts to secure supposedly dedicated funding. After watching state tax revenue fall $500 million short of projections and yelling loudly from the sidelines while the legislature reappropriated — or is this misappropriated? — $143 million in transit funding last year, a group of transit advocates, good-government organizations and labor unions sent a letter yesterday to Andrew Cuomo urging him to protect transit dollars.
“What could be more basic to good governance than keeping the promise to taxpayers and transit riders that dedicated transit funds be spent for the sole purpose for which they were enacted?” the letter asks. “One quarter of the state’s workforce relies on mass transit to get to work.”
The organizations pushed the impact the cuts have on riders. “Twice in the last year, the Paterson Administration has raided funds dedicated solely to transit and taken a total of $160 million for other purposes,” it reads. “The diversion of dedicated transit funds in the fall of 2009 directly triggered the worst transit service cuts in memory. These included axing 36 bus routes; eliminating 570 bus stops; killing all or parts of three subway lines; and burdening millions of city and suburban riders with greater waits, more crowding, extra transfers and longer trips.” These crippling service cuts come on top of the third fare hike in as many years.”
Essentially, this letter lays the blame on the feet of, well, everyone. Gov. Paterson in fact proposed taking the transit dollars while state tax assessors woefully overestimated revenue figures. In fact, for 2011 already, the MTA expects $292 million less than originally anticipated.
Now, it’s time to renew calls for a transit lockbox in New York City. There’s no reason why dedicated funds can’t remain as such, and as long the state has the option to take the money, transit funding will always be at risk. “These taxes were enacted for a specific reason: to help pay for subway, bus and commuter operations and transit capital projects,” the letter says. “As a matter of principle and practice, the dedicated funds should continue to serve those purposes.”
I’ve long beaten the drum for a transit lockbox, and in the coming months, I should have more on the MTA’s financial relationship with New York State. Protection and support for transit is long overdue, and as this letter with its 30 signatories shows, support is growing. When will the state act?
After the jump, a full copy of the letter.