For the last few years, transit advocates have decried the state’s stealin’ ways. Last year, New York legislature approved a budget in early December that took $143 million in MTA money and removed it back to the general fund. Thus, the authority had to implement a sweeping array of service cuts in mid-2010. The same could very well happen again before the end of this year, and Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo seems to have no problem raiding the MTA.
In an effort to shore up the authority’s fiscal security, transit groups are searching for a solution. In California, a new measure approved by voters acts as a constitutional amendment that bars the state from moving money specific earmarked for one purpose to another. In effect, the West Coast leader in car use has created a transit lockbox well before the idea has gained significant political traction in New York state.
Now a new group called Reinvent Albany that is aiming to promote a fair, accountable and effective state government has issued a report urging Cuomo to protect dedicated transit funding through an Executive Order. As part of a report containing 11 EOs Cuomo could sign immediately to improve the state’s government, Reinvent Albany, run by John Kaehny for whom I’m doing an MTA budget project, has garnered of seven advocacy groups including the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and Transportation Alternatives to sign for its lockbox order.
“These orders are tailor made for Governor Cuomo to use to launch his campaign to transform New York government,” said Kaehny. “Governor Cuomo will have enormous unilateral power to make government more open and accountable. The ball is in his court to do that.”
The order in question proposes in part:
1. The Executive Branch, including the Division, shall not request, recommend, or order appropriations, across-the-board cuts, or programmatic budgets, or any other action that diverts dedicated funds or dedicated revenue sources from the intended and sole purpose defined in the legislation that originally established them.
2. The Executive Branch, including the Division, shall propose a budget that transfers dedicated revenues directly to the dedicated funds, authorities or agencies they were enacted to support.
3. The Division shall not implement or propose across-the-board cuts that have the effect of diverting dedicated revenues from the dedicated funds, authorities or agencies they were enacted to support.
It would require the creation of “a clear and easily understandable description of how dedicated revenues and funds are raised and spent, highlighting and explaining the diversions of dedicated revenues and funds.” This information would be maintained on the New York State Division of Budget’s website for all to see.
In essence, such a move would inform voters of the MTA’s financial status and show how the actions and decisions of our elected representatives — the same representatives who bash the MTA over service cuts — lead to those service cuts. Now that the EOs are out there, it’s imperative that Cuomo gives the idea serious thought. He has said very little of any comfort on transit, and while an EO can’t replace legislative action, it can usher in better government and wiser choices. If not, the future of the MTA and transit in New York City may be a tenuous one indeed.