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.