Sooner or Later, the Cuomo Fare Hike Is Coming

Earlier this week, Streetsblog contributor Charles Komanoff crunched the numbers to see what could happen if Governor Andrew Cuomo doesn’t follow through on his pledge to restore the $320 million in MTA funding cuts he signed into law on Monday. The cost to commuters, the economy, and public health, he found, could substantially outweigh the value of the tax relief.

Andrew Cuomo, who governs the state with more transit riders than any other, basks in the glow of cutting $320 million in dedicated transit funding. Photo: Governor's Office

Cuomo spokesperson Matt Wing sent this response to Komanoff:

Your facts, assumptions and analysis are wrong. The reduction in the payroll tax will not cost the MTA one dollar and to suggest otherwise ignores the law.

Cuomo is trying to define the terms of the debate like so: If Albany makes up for the hundreds of millions in payroll tax revenue he just cut, then he did no harm to transit riders and the regional economy.

But the damage is all but inevitable.

The governor may very well scrounge up $320 million for the MTA this year, but make no mistake — straphangers will feel the pain of his transit funding cut. Albany commitments to fund transit never hold up over time. Consider:

  • In 2001, Albany contributed $144 million in general taxes to MTA operations [PDF]. Now it contributes $7 million.
  • When Governor Hugh Carey left office in 1982, Albany contributed $1.5 billion to the MTA’s five-year capital program. By 1992, under Governor Mario Cuomo, Albany wasn’t putting in a penny.
  • Until 2009, Albany was contributing $45 million a year to fund student Metrocards. Then legislators threatened to cut the contribution down to $7 million. Eventually they consented to $25 million.

When Cuomo signed the MTA payroll tax cut into law, surrounded by Long Island politicians, he made it out to be a boon for job creation. But Cuomo’s appeasement of suburban political interests will hit straphangers hard. A weaker transit system means job-seekers will have less access to employment, employers will have less talent to draw from, and New Yorkers will have to deal with higher transportation costs.

The governor may find a way to restore the money this year, and even the next. Maybe Cuomo will patch up the hole he gouged in the MTA budget until 2016. The patches won’t last forever, though. Transit riders will pay for this funding cut eventually, just like they’ll pay for Cuomo’s decision to fund the MTA capital plan by borrowing. Sooner or later, the Cuomo fare hike is coming.