This Time, Lockbox Bill Falls Short in Legislature, Leaving Riders at Risk

A bill that would protect dedicated transit funds from being stolen by Albany failed to pass the legislature this year, leaving riders upstate and downstate at continued risk of further service cuts at the hands of the state budget process. Since 2009, Albany has taken away $260 million in funds promised to the MTA, and more to upstate transit agencies, contributing to major service cuts across the state.

Last year, a lockbox bill sponsored by State Senator Marty Golden and Assembly Member James Brennan passed the legislature unanimously, only to be “eviscerated” by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo removed the centerpiece of the legislation, a requirement that any time the legislature takes dedicated funds from transit, it would be required to put together a “diversion impact statement,” cataloguing and publicizing the cost of the raid.

This year, Golden and Brennan reintroduced their lockbox bill in an attempt to restore the protections that the legislature had implemented. They also teamed up with upstate legislators like Buffalo Senator Mark Grisanti, whose constituents have been suffering from transit funding raids similar to those that have hit the MTA, to make the bill cover transit agencies statewide.

Despite the support of over 100 organizations, from environmental groups to labor unions, the AARP and the construction industry, that bill did not pass the legislature this year. Though the legislation attracted dozens of sponsors, it didn’t make it out of committee in either chamber.

With no new protections for transit funding, it’s as important as ever for riders to keep an eye on the governor and legislature in the next round of budget negotiations. The governor and legislature shouldn’t be allowed to get away with breaking any of their promises to fund transit — including making up for the more than $300 million shortfall in the MTA payroll tax created by last year’s cuts.