The Legislature has not only torpedoed Gov. Cuomo’s plan to raid millions from New York’s mass transit systems — lawmakers now plan to give more funding to the cash-strapped MTA than it expected.
The governor’s proposed budget released in January had targeted $160 million dedicated to subways, railroads and other aspects of the state’s public transportation network, including $145 million of tax revenues dedicated to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The bulk of the cash shuffle would’ve hit the Metropolitan Mass Transportation Operating Assistance fund, a collection of tax revenues designed to help fund the MTA’s $17 billion annual operating budget.
But on Monday, Assembly and Senate lawmakers released budget proposals that rejected nearly all of Cuomo’s cuts to mass transit. The proposals also include an additional $385 million in assistance for the the state’s mass transit compared with last year.
Lawmakers said they’ll pay for the funding boosts through new tax revenues baked into the budget.
“Withholding dedicated transit funds is never right, but it is a particular injustice in this moment of crisis,” said Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), the deputy majority leader. “Raiding MTA funds was the wrong choice - that’s why I fought to make transit agencies whole and add even more, desperately needed revenue for our trains and buses.”
The budget proposals come days after President Biden signed a COVID-19 stimulus bill that sends roughly $6.5 billion to the MTA. The MTA has received roughly $14.5 billion in pandemic relief from the feds over the last year — and transit officials have called for another $1.5 billion to stay afloat amid low ridership that’s hammered the agency’s cash flow.
Rachael Fauss, an analyst at the good government group Reinvent Albany, said she’s still worried about future raids on tax revenues that are supposed to be dedicated to transit costs.
“Now the Legislature must hold firm and ensure that this money stays dedicated to mass transit in the coming years,” Fauss said.
State statues reserve operating assistance money for the MTA — but Cuomo has repeatedly tapped into the funds for other needs. Budgets between 2011 and 2015 raided at least $391 million in dedicated transit funds.
While the budgets put forth by the Assembly and Senate reject most of Cuomo’s transit initiatives, they each agree with the governor’s proposal to change the state penal code to make spitting on an on-duty transit worker a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.
The bills set the stage for final negotiations ahead of the April 1 budget deadline.
With Denis Slattery