Home MTA Politics Cuomo strips MTA of $320 million, lockbox protections

Cuomo strips MTA of $320 million, lockbox protections

by Benjamin Kabak

A few weeks ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo uttered a phrase that could go down in New York state history. “I am the government,” he said in a radio interview in early November. Since then, Cuomo has run roughshod over Albany, enforcing his whims over those of the state legislature and public, and New York City’s transit service will soon be paying a heavy, heavy price.

The fun started earlier this week when Gov. Cuomo announced an agreement forged with Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver to reform New York’s tax code. As a favor to suburban legislators who enjoy transit access but want the city to subsidize their commuter rail service even more than we already do, Cuomo threw in a partial repeal of the payroll mobility tax. That tax, by the way, supports the MTA to the tune of $1.5 billion a year. Without it, the authority would be facing massive fare hikes or service cuts.

Originally, the new tax proposal was to cost the MTA $250 million in annual revenue, but that number has since increased to $320 million. No one is happy. The Times editorialized against MTA cuts, and a group of transit advocates spoke out against the decision. In a statement endorsed by the General Contractors Association, Straphangers, the RPA and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the group highlighted the issue with the state’s approach:

The problem with this approach is three-fold:

  • estimates of what’s needed can be incorrect, exposing the MTA to serious financial risk;
  • payrolls can grow over time, subsidies do not; and
  • subsidies can be lowered over time, as was the appropriation for student MetroCards;

A better way can be found in the way public schools are being treated right now. These schools now pay the PMT and then apply for reimbursement from the State.

Right now, Cuomo and state leaders claim their find $320 million through alternative funding sources, but as Streetsblog noted yesterday, the MTA’s payroll tax funding has now become discretionary. The state can remove the funding; they can fail to find it; they can do whatever they want because they are the government. While congestion pricing with dedicated transit revenues would likely generate the $320 million needed to cover this new funding gap, that option has been off the table since the fall, and leading congestion pricing advocates tell me it could be a few years before those efforts are revived.

To make matters worse, in a special session in Albany yesterday, Cuomo essentially striped the Transit Lockbox Bill of any bite. What was a strong bill with stringent requirements has now become a shell of its former self. Originally, the lockbox, which passed by the Assembly and Senate with nary a dissent, prevented the state from removing transit funding without the full support of the state legislature. It also required a public statement detailing the amount diverted from mass transit and the impact that diversion would have on the level of service, maintenance and security.

Those key provisions are now entirely gone. In the new bill, foisted on Albany by Cuomo, the governor as the power to divert funds if he “declares a fiscal emergency,” and the reporting requirements have been removed entirely. The public will not know the extent of the raids on service levels unless others report on them. This is a lockbox without a lock, and a group of union leaders and transit advocates are not happy. “We do not support the substitute legislation passed in this special session,” the coalition that saw the bill through originally said. “It does not constrain future raids on transit funds, and deletes the requirement that the of the diversion of transit dedicated funds be reported.”

The bill’s original sponsors have vowed to restore the language next year, but Gov. Cuomo never indicated that he would sign the more powerful piece of legislation. And so we are left with an MTA striped of $320 million, no clear sign from where replacement funds will originate, and a lockbox that isn’t. As Andrew Cuomo said, he is the government, and his is a government with no sense of the role transit funding plays in New York City. Sad times indeed.

You may also like


Josh December 9, 2011 - 10:34 am

I want Paterson back.

Subway Tunnel Lover December 9, 2011 - 7:30 pm

People, People, People!
We don’t need to raise taxes or cutting spending to get everything we want.
Just ask the Republicans.
Or the Chinese…

Alex C December 9, 2011 - 10:37 am

I want Spitzer back. Cuomo is a massively right wing “Democrat” whose only redemption is that he passed gay marriage, which he pretty much did to get enough political capital to be a complete jackass for the rest of his term. Pathetic.

Bolwerk December 9, 2011 - 1:18 pm

We have two parties in America. One is made up of simple-minded, corrupt right-wing kooks. And then there are the Republikans….

The Cobalt Devil December 9, 2011 - 2:59 pm

We usually don’t agree on much Bolwerk, but on this I’m with you 100%!

NYC Big Adventure December 9, 2011 - 10:38 am

Yikes. Man, for once it would be nice to see some GOOD budget news for the MTA. Each cut seems more painful than the last…

Joshua December 9, 2011 - 10:43 am

Mark my words. Thanks to Mr. I Am The Government, there is going to be a day that we’re going to be paying as much for Subway and local buses as we already do for livery cabs.

I’m scared to find out what the express bus service is going to be like during that time.

Farro December 9, 2011 - 1:54 pm

I am the decider?

Bolwerk December 9, 2011 - 3:23 pm

Look, I don’t want to say Cuomo isn’t an asshole for this, let’s not get hysterical either. It decreases the average state subsidy for a single ride by about 6¢. It probably means the MTA will use it as an excuse to charge another 25¢ on top of whatever the next 25¢ increase is.

Alex C December 9, 2011 - 5:42 pm

Hmm…when you put it that way, that makes sense. Besides, $2.50 sounds nicer than $2.25.

Bolwerk December 9, 2011 - 5:56 pm

There is already a scheduled fare increase coming up. I haven’t done the math on what exactly it will take, but figure they need to collect another average of 6¢ on every ride, so they’ll probably need to at least reduce the bonuses now.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they use this to raise the fares even more.

Alex C December 9, 2011 - 6:32 pm

$2.50 makes sense, as a single ride is already $2.50 anyways. As long as Lhota has the stones to not be Cuomo’s [expletive] and tells NYC how badly they’re getting screwed by Cuomo and the state assembly.

Alex C December 9, 2011 - 10:45 am

This is what happens when one party (Republicans) turns into an insane asylum. All Cuomo did to get elected was be a Democrat and be sane. When there’s no competition, there’s no incentive. And there’s no incentive for Cuomo to do anything but run the State for the profit and benefit of his donors. And what are we shlubs gonna do? Nothing, because there’s nobody else.

Larry Littlefield December 9, 2011 - 11:03 am

“This is what happens when one party (Republicans) turns into an insane asylum. All Cuomo did to get elected was be a Democrat and be sane.”

The other party is virtually a criminal enterprise. There was no competition in the primary, either.

Just to put Cuomo in perspective, the MTA is bankrupt and he just got there. And if he wasn’t the Governor, who would the Governor be? Seriously. We’ve had a handful of pols and would-be pols I’ve sort of respected over the years, and none are active now.

The Cobalt Devil December 9, 2011 - 11:48 am

Man, I miss Nelson Rockefeller. I’m about three months away from driving my 8-year-old car to LA and staying there. No tolls, no stupid bridges to pay for, and a nice clean subway that costs $1.50 and doesn’t smell like piss.

Phil December 9, 2011 - 11:59 am

So you want to destroy your car’s suspension on terribly maintained roads like Wilshire, get stuck in all-day congestion, and attempt to rely on a public transportation system so dysfunctional it’s not even funny anymore? Good luck.

The Cobalt Devil December 9, 2011 - 12:16 pm

Yes, because the roads in NYC are smooth as glass and there’s no congestion to speak of =)

As far as LA’s “dysfunctionial” transit system: the last two or three times I’ve visited the city, I didn’t bother to rent a car as the subway/bus system got me around quite nicely. Got from LAX to Los Feliz in less than 90 mins, and traveled to North Hollywood, Pasadena, Glendale and Downtown all without stepping foot in a car. And those LA Dash shuttle buses ALWAYS come on time, and cost a whopping .35 cents! Was a nice treat to step down into a subway that wasn’t coated with grime or smelled like piss. New Yorkers are so used to being treated like shit that they don’t know what a nice subway ride is like.

Bolwerk December 9, 2011 - 2:31 pm

Where the hell is all this piss and grime stuff coming from? It’s not just The Cobalt Devil saying this, but I think Larry Littlefield commented about it too.

I’m a regular user of the J/M, 4/5/6, 7, and L. And by regular user, I mean I’m on at least three of those almost every day, and probably easily take all of them multiple times in the course of a week. The J is probably the worst of the lot, but even then actual piss and grime is exceedingly rare. The worst-case scenario is usually trash, and actually the MTA seems to do a good job cleaning that up promptly.

Are experiences on the BMT trains in southern (!South) Brooklyn different?

The Cobalt Devil December 9, 2011 - 2:36 pm

Have you been to the Chambers St station on the “J” train in the last 10 years or so? Grime and piss smell everywhere. How about Second Ave on the IND (or just about any station on the IND for that matter)? That whiff o’ piss all but surrounds you.

If you don’t think most NYC subway stations are dirty, or don’t get a piss smell from at least half the underground stations you spend time in, then you must be so used to being surrounded by filth and piss smell that you don’t even notice it anymore, which is just sad. Whenever I ride the subways in DC, LA, Chicago and other cities, the first thing I notice is the lack of piss smell and relative cleanliness.

Bolwerk December 9, 2011 - 3:04 pm

I didn’t notice piss at Chambers yesterday. I did notice the damn thing is still falling apart, which is perplexing in its own right given that it’s right under city hall – and the 4/5/6 station in the same complex is quite well-tended. Second Ave. on the IND is one that I usually miss because the M circumvents via the Christie St. connection, though there are at least a rational explanation for piss being there: LES drunks. 😐

But, no, generally I don’t find much piss in NYC subway stations. And my sense of smell is usually good, if anything. It’s rare enough that I notice it when it happens, at least in the rather wide spectrum of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens stations I use. (For instance, I noticed some at the back of the 42nd Street uptown 6 platform maybe last week. Figures it would be near the tunnel entrance, of course.)

And I wasn’t trying to say the stations are clean, either. I would say the cars tend to be pretty clean, again, at least where I use them. And I agree the DC Metro, which I also frequently use, is generally cleaner. But piss and grime – which I’m taking to mean years of caked on filth – are less common than litter and badly disposed of trash, the latter squarely the fault of the MTA. And I’m not ruling out that there is piss in some of the places I really haven’t been in the past half decade, such as southern Brooklyn or The Bronx.

That said, much as you seem to run into it where you go, it really is rare in a lot of stations.

Phil December 9, 2011 - 2:42 pm

Yeah, but I don’t really care about the roads since I don’t have a car and use our incredibly good public transportation system that no American city can come close to rivalling. Except during late nights, I can get almost anywhere quickly, efficiently, and without too much of a hassle, all with an Unlimited MetroCard 24/7. Try doing something like that in LA; because the only way you could is if you only went outside from 6am-midnight and only along the Red, Purple, Gold, and Blue Lines, which don’t even serve a fraction of the city.

The Cobalt Devil December 9, 2011 - 2:48 pm

Well, most sane people are in bed between 12-6am, not out getting piss-drunk and trying to get home to Bushwick. And once they start shutting down entire lines at 10pm starting next month, you’ll be singing a different tune.

And the way things are going, with Cuomo et al defunding the MTA as quick as they can, the NYC subway and bus system will start looking (and running) like it did in 1980. Trash fires, broken-down trains and a general shabbiness will be the order of the day. Sorry, but I’d rather take a train that actually closes down for a few hours at night so they can clean the stations and empty the trash.

Bolwerk December 9, 2011 - 3:16 pm

But most people who use the subway at 12-6am are sane too. They’re just the minority of sane people who are on transit late at night. Surely a few are kids going through their phase of post-21 daily drunkenness, and most will grow up and be in bed by 11pm in a few years. As for the vast majority of transit-dependent people using the subway late at night, they are probably getting to or from work or other obligations (caring for a relative’s child?) – which some of them, not all depending on myriad factors, can still do better than most people using a car during the day in other parts of the country.

Meanwhile, most insane people are asleep at 8pm so they can get up at the buttcrack of dawn to sanctimoniously mind other people’s business. Or something.

Miles Bader December 9, 2011 - 9:10 pm

Seriously, even most of the drinking crowd probably get home before midnight much of the week — and those of who only stay out really late occasionally would still like to get home (without a huge cab fare) those times when we do!

That said, the service doesn’t need to be particularly great after 1am or so, as long as there’s something… a train that runs every 30-60 minutes, or equivalent well-organized bustitutions would be fine. It’s the complete and utter absence of anything save taxis that makes things annoying.

[I live in a place where it’s basically “taxis only after 12:30am”, and it’s really a miserable experience sitting with a group of friends in a bar at 12:15 with the conversation still going strong, thinking “ok, do I stay and enjoy or do I save $50 and get the last train?”]

Bolwerk December 9, 2011 - 9:27 pm

Well, the L Train along northern Brooklyn probably caters to a crowd of twentysomethings with daddy’s money and time to drink like that. But that’s probably far from the norm for the city’s late night subway crowd. Some, probably large majority, percentage of them are working nights.

That said, I guess the L runs about every 20m-30m and is relatively packed well into the night. Bustitution isn’t good enough. 🙁

SpendmoreWastemore December 10, 2011 - 1:53 am

Uh, people under 30 tend to be out after 12.

Also fun people.

And musicians.

And models 😉

Bolwerk December 9, 2011 - 3:10 pm

He’s right that LA has a pretty well-run metro. It’s hardly a substitute for a car in LA though. And we probably really could learn a thing or two about how they handle litter, because the truth is we in New York don’t handle it well.

That said, LA is socioeconomically enough of a shithole to make the usually rather cosmetic blemishes of New York quite a bit more appealing for most sane people. The same goes for most postwar cities in the USA. The most insulting description I ever heard of a city was for Houston (“LA without the nice parts”).

The Cobalt Devil December 9, 2011 - 3:20 pm

Never heard that one about Houston 🙂 I know LA ain’t perfect, and it sure has its unsavory spots, but so did NYC not too long ago. The problem with NYC is that the poorest folks were long ago relegated to parts of town that most NYers don’t see, if they haven’t already fled to NJ or points south, where things are generally cheaper. What gets me is that the streets above the subways are becoming increasingly wealthier and full of tourists while our subway system is being chipped away at and clearly on a downward spiral as compared to even a decade ago.

Maybe I’m just tired after almost 50 years in this town, but every time I visit LA I get entranced by the weather, the clean subways and the relative calmness of the populace in areas like supermarket lines or when crossing the street. I really hope NYC’s transit system doesn’t hit bottom like it did in the 1980s, but with all this money being pulled out of the coffers, it ain’t looking good.

Bolwerk December 9, 2011 - 3:35 pm

I mostly agree with that. People in NYC are too segregated from how the other side live. I actually find that myopia problem awful with Americans in general these days. It makes almost zero sense that rural whites and urban blacks aren’t a politically unified force – except the resulting political force would be socially very conservative and economically very interventionist. To say the least, that would put them at odds with both major political parties.

Miles Bader December 9, 2011 - 10:00 pm

That’s what I’d always heard about Houston, but my brother lives there, and although he admits that transportation there is completely and utterly horrid, he raves about the city otherwise…. (but then he works at / lives near a big university, so maybe he’s in a little cocoon…)

Ed December 9, 2011 - 12:05 pm

If the state had a healthy political system, the legislature would approve of appropriations for state agencies for the year, as part of the normal budget process, plus any debt or taxes to fund the appropriations. The next year, they would do the same, changing the amount as the majorities wished. No lockboxes, no governor moving around funds, no gimmicks. Given that we don’t have this system, this is still not good news.

I don’t want to pile on Cuomo, but it should have gotten more comment at the time that he effectively ran unopposed. No opposition in the primary, even by the sitting governor. There were a number of fringe candidates on the ballot in the general election, of the sort the public is completely unwilling to vote for no matter how bad the major parties have governed, including one who had the Republican ballot line. You get this sort of thing in lower ballot races all the time, but now its creeping up to the serious positions. We may even see this in the presidential election next year.

As Larry Littlefield has pointed out, this time there may not be as much as an exodus as in the 70s, because there really is no good place to go.

Frank B. December 9, 2011 - 12:15 pm

Honestly, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, Cuomo has been a clear and utter disappointment with me on many key issues.

The transit lockbox, the livery cabs for the outer boroughs, hydrofracking, the millionaire’s tax, honestly, pretty much everything. The only thing that he did of note for citizens was get Gay Marriage in New York, which provides the other 95% of the population with two things: diddly, and squat.

This man is a DINO is a state that isn’t even remotely republican. If we had recalls in this state, I think a movement would be going by now.

This $320 million is just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Larry Littlefield December 9, 2011 - 12:42 pm

To call someone a DINO or RINO is to assume that Republicans and Democrats have principles to which to adhere or from which to depart, rather than self-interest groups seeking to grab at the expense of the future or younger generations.

Getting back to Cuomo as the only choice, we’ve had a political system designed to keep those outside the family out for decades, and no one but a bunch of hacks is in it.

Just consider Senator Hillary Clinton. They had to go outside the state to bring in someone with the gravitas to replace Moynihan. And when Clinton became Secretary of State, people were outraged that Paterson selected a brand new Congresswoman with a political heritage rather than a celeb. There is no there there.

And mark my words, as long as times are tough the legislature will do whatever Cuomo says. They don’t have any principles on which to base painful choices, and don’t want the responsibility. Just give them their little member item handouts so they can strut around their districts like Santa, giving some people their own money back.

John-2 December 9, 2011 - 1:32 pm

It’s also fair to note that Andrew seems to be preparing for the 2016 presidential elections, with the idea that Democratic voters nationwide are going to be more favorably disposed towards a candidate on the Clintonian side of the party — i.e. a DLC type who is seen as less of a free-spender than the current president (and that’s whether Obama gets re-elected next November or not).

If you look at it as Cuomo setting himself up to be the heir apparent to Bill Clinton (if Hillary doesn’t run) and that his fiscal actions are as much for show to other moderate Democrats around the country as it is for voters inside the state, his actions on the MTA start to make a lot more sense from his point of view, if not for the subway and commuter rail riders in the area (and given the Republican Party’s organization in the state, it’s not like Cuomo’s going to face any serious challenge on his right for re-election in 2014, and assumes while he may get challenged on his left, bashing the MTA’s budget isn’t going to hurt the feelings of most upstate Democrats).

Bolwerk December 9, 2011 - 2:51 pm

They are markedly different, in fact. The key difference is the Dems don’t have a single coherent ideology. They are a dropbox for anything GOP would not welcome, and that has been so as far back as anyone living can remember. In the 1930s southern segregationists and upper west side Marxists could vote together for Roosevelt. Today, the political spectrum is narrower and more right-wing, with the Dems having coalesced around a literally conservative* spectrum of positions, if not outright ideological hangups. And the Republikans are dominated by people who are just on the left side (no, literally) of being in Bellevue throwing their feces at padded walls.

And it’s the same thing here in NYS, where the Dems are literally the conservatives, with the perhaps unusual addition that the Republicans are sometimes actually to the left of the Democrats – at least on issues not related to policing and crime.

Like Gore Vidal wrote in the 1980s, the only thing maybe making the Dems better is they’re less doctrinaire and stupid. And then, not by much, since they’re afraid to disagree with the asylum escapees who rule the airwaves.

* It’s just not called conservative, because of the conventional wisdom that the people who want to overthrow most of the government are supposedly the conservatives. A hoot!

Just give them their little member item handouts so they can strut around their districts like Santa, giving some people their own money back.

Or, more likely, New York City’s transit money.

Cuomo set to veto Bloomberg’s five-borough taxi plan :: Second Ave. Sagas December 9, 2011 - 1:01 pm

[…] « Cuomo strips MTA of $320 million, lockbox protections Dec […]

Bolwerk December 9, 2011 - 1:14 pm

Don’t forget the other favor to the suburbanites: they should never, ever have to pay a toll to go over an East River bridge!

BrooklynBus December 9, 2011 - 1:45 pm

Well it looks like Cuomo is turning out to be no friend of transit.

I didn’t think Lhota was a good choice for MTA Chairman because he is not a transit person like Walder was, but supposedly the reason he was chosen was because it was thought he would deal well with Cuomo to secure transit funding. It looks like he will have his hands full. If he cannot get Cuomo to rethink his poor decisions, he will have failed also.

Alex C December 9, 2011 - 6:11 pm

Lhota is here to be the Yes Man. He will do as he is told. And he will slash the budget under the guise of “fiscal responsibility” and then leave the next chairman with a big steaming pile of feces to deal with. Said next chairman will end up taking all the blame. It worked great for Bush and his cronies, it’ll work again.

Larry Littlefield December 9, 2011 - 3:08 pm

I wonder if Cuomo came in figuring the MTA was sunk, and is just looking to avoid responsibility for it. Rather than end up like Obama, taking the blame for a bad economy that had been building up for 30 years.

Bobby December 9, 2011 - 4:12 pm

KABAK- Quit ur complaining. You elected this clown with your other leftists allies and now you act surprised when he behaves like a mongrel?

VLM December 9, 2011 - 5:15 pm

Yes, I’m sure Carl Paladino, who had already threatened to basically rape the MTA before election day, would have been a staunch defender of public transit. Climb back into your cave, anonymous troll.

Is New York City Getting the Short End of Albany’s Stick? » New York Liberty Report December 12, 2011 - 9:43 pm

[…] high as $320 million. Cuomo has pledged to replace the money from state coffers, but that hasn’t mollified critics who have come to see Albany as less than stalwart when it comes to safeguarding the MTA’s […]

With $320 million gone, cheering the wrong thing :: Second Ave. Sagas December 12, 2011 - 11:16 pm

[…] last week’s surprise announcement concerning this revenue stream, transit advocates remain dismayed. Cuomo, as Transportation Nation’s Jim O’Grady and Colby Hamilton noted, claims the […]

Updates from Albany: A lockbox bill and purple SBS lights :: Second Ave. Sagas June 14, 2013 - 1:58 pm

[…] The transit lockbox is back. Since the late-2000s raid on the MTA budget, transit advocates in Albany have been pushing for legislation that would make it hardly and politically inconvenient for the state’s executive and legislative branches to reappropriate money that’s supposed to go to transit. The Senate first passed the lockbox concept in 2011, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo later stripped the bill of most protection. […]

After Senate approval, Assembly passes transit lockbox bill :: Second Ave. Sagas June 19, 2013 - 1:19 pm

[…] long urged the state to better protect transit funding, but when the bill passed in 2011, Cuomo removed the protections that would have made it less politically convenient to reallocate transit […]


Leave a Comment