Home MTA Politics Lockbox KO’d as Cuomo vetoes two MTA bills

Lockbox KO’d as Cuomo vetoes two MTA bills

by Benjamin Kabak

Yet again, the MTA lockbox has died at the pen of New York’s governor.

It’s no secret that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has tenuously embraced transit while serving as New York’s chief executive. His signature infrastructure project — a questionably necessary rebuild of the Tappan Zee Bridge — is notable for doing away with even a lane in each direction dedicated to buses, and although he’s rushed to take credit for the MTA’s good news, he hasn’t been anything close to a transit leader in the way Eliot Spitzer was before his career was derailed.

This year, for the second time, Cuomo had a chance to make a mark on the MTA. He was again presented with a bill that proponents have termed the MTA Lockbox. The bill itself is largely symbolic and wasn’t actually much of a lockbox. In fact, even current MTA head Tom Prendergast, taking a cue from his boss, wasn’t sure the measure would be a necessary or fruitful one. But had it been implemented, it would have served its purpose in that it would have at least required the state to include a diversion impact statement with details on the amount diverted in terms of its impact on service and expressed as a number of monthly fares.

And so for second time, Cuomo vetoed the bill. Last time, he stripped it of requirement to issue an impact statement. This time around, his simply vetoed the whole thing. He was kind enough to include a veto statement:

This legislation is almost identical to a bill passed by the Legislature in 2011. However, the Legislature, at that time, agreed to amend that legislation to allow the Governor to transfer funds when the Governor declares a fiscal emergency, the Governor notifies the leaders of both houses, and a statute is enacted to authorize the transfer. This bill would repudiate that agreement. I have never declared a fiscal emergency and directed such transfers. The Legislature has not articulated a sound basis to change the current law. For these reasons, I disapprove this bill.

Essentially, because the legislature would not give Gov. Cuomo the carte blanche ability to raid the MTA’s coffers in the name of a “fiscal emergency,” the lockbox is dead and gone again. Transit advocates, who unanimously lined up behind the measure, were dismayed. “Governor Cuomo’s veto of the Transit Lockbox Bill sends the wrong message to New Yorkers who ride buses and trains, and who seek fiscal transparency,” the Tri-State Transportation Campaign said. “The veto means that taxes and fees dedicated to public transit will remain extremely vulnerable to budget raids.”

Streetsblog, which noted how Cuomo’s veto statement plays a bit fast and loose with facts, gathered a few more quotes. John Kaehny of Reinventing Albany said there was “simply no responsible excuse for” Cuomo to ignore this bill while TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen called the veto “puzzling” and dubbed Cuomo “the only one in Albany who thinks the lockbox bill is a bad idea.” State Senator Marty Golden, one of the bill’s sponsors, vowed to try again. “The bill is a common-sense mechanism that ensures funds dedicated to transit stay with transit,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cuomo also vetoed A6249, a bill that would have required the MTA to issue reports detailing all service cuts since 2008 along with a plan to restore service. I profiled this bill back in July and didn’t see much reason behind it then. The MTA has recently enacted service increases and already put forward substantial materials exploring the cuts and their impacts. In rejecting this measure, Cuomo noted that the MTA is already required by federal law to produce such reports. “What this legislation purports to seek already exists,” he wrote. “It is unnecessary.”

It’s hardly a wash though to note that Cuomo rejected one good measure and one bad. The lockbox adds a layer of accountability to Albany’s budgetary maneuverings that has been missing for decades. I’m sure this effort will resurface again soon, but it’s disheartening to see Cuomo ignore such a loud and forceful groundswell of support for a measure that is both a symbolic gesture to protect transit and a real attempt at economic reform.

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Jeh-fro November 15, 2013 - 12:26 am

I’m anything but a Tea Party supporter, but every time this guy comes up in the news, I wish I’d voted for Paladino.
Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

Nathanael November 16, 2013 - 3:28 am

Forget Palladino — I wish I’d voted for the whore.

She had the best platform and had the best performance in the debate. And was the only person running who has actually run a small business.

The “Rent is 2 Damn High” guy was pretty good too.

drosejr November 15, 2013 - 12:52 am

Cuomo probably feels that he has the NYC vote locked up for next year’s gubernatorial campaign and any future presidential primary or general election. However, he needs to build and continually reinforce his new-found image as a “car guy” in order to win over upstate New York and flyover country. Thus he will continue to take for granted voters in the five boroughs and those issues that matter the most to them, like transit, in favor of being seen as a more moderate Dem who can work across the aisle on pocketbook and other Centrist-friendly ideas, like the TZB. It’s not likely Astorino or any future Republican will win by running as a champion of NYC. Cuomo wants to fight on their turf Instead. This is a political calculation he believes he can get away with, and he’s probably right.

Bolwerk November 15, 2013 - 1:22 am

He was a “car guy” before he was elected, and it was well known. Maybe it was a clue that he was a buffoon, as most people are who like muscle cars anyway, but liking cars isn’t by itself evidence that he would be screwing transit users.

I really wish people would drop gratuitous descriptors like “moderate” and “centrist” when describing pols. There is nothing moderate or even conservative about opposing transit expansion. It’s just boneheaded, which is exactly what Cuomo and his pal across the river are. It doesn’t even help the folk who leech tax dollars from NYC (*cough* upstate *cough* red states) in the end because hurting us ultimately just means there is less to plunder in Albany and Washington.

Josh November 15, 2013 - 12:14 pm

I disagree with your characterization of Cuomo as a buffoon here; as drosejr said, this is a calculated decision to pander to upstate voters because (especially in the wake of the landslides in the local elections this year) he knows he’s got city voters in his back pocket already.

Bolwerk November 15, 2013 - 2:13 pm

I don’t see what this does for upstate voters, except obfuscate the workings of their government. It is more likely to alienate downstate voters than it is to please upstate voters, and a vote in Watertown is worth no more than a vote in Brooklyn anyway.

Nathanael November 16, 2013 - 3:33 am

The upstate city operations supported a “lockbox” because their own transit funds keep getting raided. Cuomo has done jack shit for the upstate cities.

If I were to guess, I would guess that Cuomo had a job offer from Dean Skelos, because that’s the only thing which makes sense of Cuomo’s behavior.

Nathanael November 16, 2013 - 3:31 am

Andrew Cuomo, unlike his father, has no idea how to attract upstate voters.

We don’t want bullcrap downstate road bridges. (Yes, to us Tappan Zee is downstate.)

We generally want promotion of specialty agriculture… which Cuomo is crap at. We want better freight transportation upstate to attract industry… which Cuomo has done absolutely nothing about.

The right-wingers want to be free to collect guns and go hunting, and Cuomo actively alienated them with a “gun control bill” which is mostly window dressing and doesn’t actually do much in the way of gun control.

And the Democrats upstate would REALLY like it if he would stop gerrymandering upstate on behalf of Republicans. But because Cuomo is *evil*, he *signed* the bill to gerrymander the State Senate for the Republicans.

Andrew Cuomo disgusts me. I don’t know whether this is intended as pandering, but if it is, it’s a big fat failure.

Bolwerk November 18, 2013 - 12:52 am


As a busybody and business comrade, Andy seems to be a Rockefeller RepublikanRepublican. Keeping the Senate Republikan has the effect of keeping Sheldon Silver from being the most powerful, organized politician in the state. Republikans are incompetent policymakers, and Democrats are incompetent politicians.

David Brown November 15, 2013 - 6:39 am

This is just the latest example that reminds me of Don Vito Coreleone’s quote that “The Lawyer With The Briefcase, Can Steal More Than The Man With The Gun.” If you take this, Obama-Care and the failed Computer System, the failed Rezoning to satisfy the demands of the Hotel Workers Union, the prices needed to complete Train Stations ( see the PATH Station), and a Councilman from The Bronx demanding $100,000 a year for 99 years for his charity otherwise he will block Kingsbridge Armory, you see examples of why people are disgusted with the entire process. People do want change they voted for it, but they are getting the same political process as before. Where are the Truman’s and Reagan’s of this World when needed. Come to think of it where is De Blasio’s “Bold Progressive Vision” to quote Barak Obama. Most of us ( even those on the ” Tea Party” supporting Right ( like me)) would accept the Socialist ideals of De Blasio if the process would be improved, and people who really needed it were helped. But robbing Transit for “Pet Projects”, Community Boards demanding multimillion dollar Dog Runs, taxing people not to help the poor and needy but to payoff Municipal Workers ( why else insist on “Universal Pre-K” which does nothing to assist the elderly, but means more jobs for the Teacher’s Union), and shakedowns like at Kingsbridge, that makes the old “Protection Racket” of the Mob seem like nothing, just isn’t it. I guess even a symbolic action like the Lockbox is too much to ask for (let alone getting real reforms). Unless we have another FDR, Truman, Reagan, or anyone with a “Bold Vision”, to fix things, another “Great Depression” will happen and this time, without FDR.

Nathanael November 16, 2013 - 3:34 am

De Blasio might be the rail deal — I have no idea, we haven’t seen yet.

Cuomo sure isn’t.

Larry Littlefield November 15, 2013 - 9:22 am

Perhaps the legislature can improve the bill by making in broader, requiring an analysis of all the pension deals, all the debts for ongoing normal replacement, all the cuts in inflation-adjusted fares, AND the raids of dedicated taxes since 1994.


This is about assigning blame. I blame others more — Pataki, Bruno, SILVER, Skelos, Giuliani, Bloomberg. Cuomo and Dinkins also stiff the MTA in a financial crisis, in the early 1990s. The MTA has stayed stiffed ever since.

Bolwerk November 15, 2013 - 11:10 am

Behl, American politicians exploit the fact that nobody thinks four-dimensionally. It goes for the MTA’s problems and for the supposed debt explosion Obama supposedly presided over.

But normal capital replacement can reasonably involve or even should involve borrowing. The future does actually benefit from normal replacement. It’s operations we shouldn’t borrow for.

Larry Littlefield November 15, 2013 - 1:19 pm

Will you still hold your opinion when borrowing reaches a limit, ongoing normal replacement stops, and debt service soars?

Because with all the debt if borrowing benefits the future, there would presumably no need to do anything more for it.

Bolwerk November 15, 2013 - 2:04 pm

What limit is that? MTA debt is currently rated pretty high, and investors aren’t exactly shy about buying the bonds.

But, yes. I’m all for reigning in debt, but there is smart debt and dumb debt. Debt is a tool, and abuse of that tool doesn’t mean the tool is bad. Doctrinaire anti-debt policies are at least as irresponsible as borrow-and-spend neo-con antics.

Henry November 15, 2013 - 5:08 pm

I mean, interest is increasing as a share of the MTA’s annual budget. When we start decreasing service because of said interest, that’s essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul.

That being said, with conditions in the workplace greatly improved from the diesel bus depots of the ’70s, and higher life expectancy, it would be nice for both riders and the budget if the retirement age was gradually raised.

Bolwerk November 18, 2013 - 1:12 am

You people read too much hamfisted anti-debt propaganda. Yes, interest as a share of the MTA’s annual budget increasing is generally bad. Larry is even right that we are being ripped off big time. One might even put it mildly by saying we are being raped in the ass big time, and the raping is entirely inter-generational.

Still, that has no direct impact on whether borrowing the next dollar is a good idea. That decision rests entirely on the net present value of the project in question. The major problem with debt is using it stupidly makes it more expensive to use it intelligently, and we need to use it intelligently. I say “no direct impact” because higher interest rates might make some projects that would otherwise be worth it not worth it anymore.

johndmuller November 15, 2013 - 9:31 am

If the lockbox passed unanimously in both houses, shouldn’t a veto override be a foregone conclusion?

If not, does that mean that the legislators knew that Cuomo was going to veto it and were really voting to tally for themselves a painless pro-transit vote for their resumes?

Nathanael November 16, 2013 - 3:34 am

Passing in both houses is not the same as getting 2/3 in both houses needed for a veto override.

Nathanael November 16, 2013 - 9:16 pm

Though I learn upon research that it passed UNANIMOUSLY in both houses, which means they really SHOULD do a veto override.

What is Cuomo up to?

JK November 15, 2013 - 9:39 am

Small clarification, the Transit Lockbox bill applied statewide, not just to MTA funding. This is why the bill garnered editorial support from Upstate papers and transit interests. Fund raids that are tiny by MTA standards have devastating effects on small Upstate bus systems.

Nathanael November 16, 2013 - 3:35 am

Exactly. Cuomo just shafted all the upstate cities.

Because he’s evil, I guess. I can’t see why else he did it.

Phantom November 15, 2013 - 11:15 am

— Cuomo also vetoed A6249, a bill that would have required the MTA to issue reports detailing all service cuts since 2008 along with a plan to restore service–

That sounds like a smart decision. This bill assumes that no service cuts since 2006 were justified. And that every cut should be restored.

Which genius wrote that one up?

Some service should be cut back. Including a decent number of the express bus pollution / congestion machines that run empty half the time.

Dale November 15, 2013 - 11:48 am

Cuomo can’t be trusted with an emergency override button. He was able to pass the poorly put together NY SAFE gun laws without the requisite public review period by inappropriately declaring an public safety emergency. Regardless of your views on gun rights, you have to agree that public review periods are mandated for a reason and cannot be bypassed for political reasons.

Nathanael November 16, 2013 - 3:36 am

The SAFE law is a pile of nonsense. A friend of mine who is a gun collector was all set to get upset about it… until he went through it in detail and said “This does nothing. It’s just a publicity stunt.”

Sash November 15, 2013 - 5:45 pm

This article uses the word “impact” four times. Please give this word a rest.

Benjamin Kabak November 15, 2013 - 5:47 pm

It’s an impact statement. That’s the phrase for it. Sorry it offends you, anonymous Internet commenter.

Sash November 15, 2013 - 5:45 pm

…especially in articles about TRANSIT.

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