The New York State budgeting process is, by all accounts, a very, very messy one, and it’s even worse when the Senate is controlled by one party and the Assembly and Governorship controlled by the other. This year, with GOP lawmakers pushing for spending cuts and the MTA seeking money for its ongoing capital work, the debate over downstate dollars may turn sour. Yesterday, the New York State Senate, controlled by Republicans, voted to cut all capital subsidies for the MTA.
“The Senate budget resolution is right in line with our priorities to cut taxes, control spending and create jobs,” Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said. “I am confident that we will be able to work with the Governor and Assembly to get a new budget enacted well before the deadline that includes our priorities.”
The move, as first reported by Celeste Katz and Glenn Bain for The Daily News’ Daily Politics site, came as part of the one-chamber budget resolution. In this document [pdf], Senate Republicans voiced how they would vote on the various measures associated with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget plan. The Assembly conducts a similar vote, and the two resultant documents are used during the budget negotiation process.
Here, the MTA came out as big losers. The State Senate voted against a Cuomo proposal to appropriate $770 million to the MTA for capital projects, and they voted against a plan to increase the MTA’s bond cap by $7 billion. As The News noted, State Democrats were livid:
Not only did Senate Republicans cut $770 million in capital financing for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, they also rejected the agency’s bid for a $7 billion increase in its bonding cap — which according to Democratic Sen. Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn) would jeopardize the MTA’s ability to qualify for more than $2 billion in federal financing.
“It will bring the East Side Access project to a complete halt, Second Avenue subway to a complete halt,” said Dilan, who is the ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee.
Dilan also warned that the loss of funding would jeopardize the MTA’s ability to purchase new subway cars from upstate factories. “It is very irresponsible,” Dilan said. “They are putting the lives of individuals who are employed throughout the State of New York.”
Republicans, especially those of the upstate variety, claim they are seeking out information on “what specific capital projects would be funded,” but one revealed his true colors. John DeFrancisco, the Budget Committee chair from Syracuse, worried about funding levels for upstate bridges and roads. “We don’t have too many MTA trains going to Syracuse,” he said.
This is, of course, a mess. Upstaters who live off the spoils of New York City’s state-powering economy have long refused to support transit. They want money for upstate roads that do not do nearly as much for the state’s economy as the MTA does, and now they’re playing a very dangerous game with much-needed MTA funding. The authority has to secure these dollars to continue work on the Second Ave. Subway and East Side Access. To say that state lawmakers do not know what capital projects are being considered is a load of bunk.
It is easy for us in the city to shake our fists as folks like DeFrancisco and wonder why someone from Syracuse, for instance, has such an overwhelming say in what New York City needs. We are, after all, both the carrot and stick for a state that would otherwise be in dire financial straits without us. Yet, it’s worth remembering that this is just one step in the process. Cuomo seems to understand, at least begrudgingly, that the MTA needs these dollars, and Sheldon Silver, for his faults, will fight tooth and nail for it.
Right now, State Republicans in the Senate can say they voted against MTA spending before it becomes a fixture in the budget. They’ll engage in some good old fashioned horse-trading, and the money will be there. But make no mistake about it: Upstate Senators from both sides of the aisle aren’t going out of their way to do the city and its transportation network any favors, and within the five boroughs, that should be a great cause for concern.