Pressure Builds Upstate for Cuomo to Sign Transit Lockbox Bill

The transit lockbox bill, which would help safeguard dedicated transportation funds by requiring the state to disclose the impact of transit raids, still awaits a signature from Governor Cuomo following unanimous Senate and Assembly votes earlier this year. Now, two upstate newspapers are calling on the governor to sign the bill.

Upstate editorial boards are turning up the heat on Governor Cuomo, asking him to sign the transit lockbox bill. Photo: Gov. Cuomo/Flickr

A previous version of the bill applied only to the MTA, and not the state’s other transit agencies. It passed in 2011 only to be gutted by Cuomo, who removed the requirement that the state disclose when it diverts dedicated transit funds. The governor went on to raid $20 million from the MTA’s budget this year, adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars Albany has already stolen from straphangers.

This year’s bill, which applies to each of the state’s more than 130 transit agencies, passed both chambers unanimously during the final weeks of the legislative session in June,. “We were thrilled that this bill went forward,” said Nadine Lemmon of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “Senator [Marty] Golden and Assembly Member [James] Brennan pulled it out at the end.”

The governor has three choices: He can veto the bill, sign it, or do nothing and allow it to become law at the end of the year. Lemmon urged Cuomo to sign the bill. “He might as well take credit for this,” she said. “There’s certainly huge support for it.”

That support isn’t limited to New York City. “Usually you see a divide between downstate and upstate,” Lemmon said. “But I think legislators’ attitudes are changing a little bit. Clearly it’s a bill that benefits everyone.”

The Buffalo News agrees. “While we’re normally not in favor of adding to the red tape imposed by the state, in this case a dose of transparency will be a good thing,” its editorial board wrote, adding that while only a constitutional amendment could prohibit the governor from diverting funds, the lockbox bill “will help ensure that the money reaches its intended beneficiaries.”

The New York Public Transit Association has sent a letter to the governor [PDF] on behalf of more than 130 transit agencies across the state; the majority of its members do not operate within the MTA’s downstate service area.

But it’s not just upstate transit agencies that stand to benefit from more transparency from the state about its budget raids. “Refusal to [sign the bill] impacts transportation companies across the state, including Nova Bus and Bombardier here in the North Country,” Plattsburgh’s Press-Republican wrote.

“When they get a contract, everyone knows, because it has an impact on jobs,” said Lemmon.

Tri-State and other advocates have already drafted a letter to the governor about the bill, with more than 60 organizations signing on. The groups have not yet sent the letter to the governor’s office; Lemmon noted that these types of letters are usually sent when the governor calls up bills for his signature or veto.

Will the governor call up the bill? “We’ve had radio silence from the governor’s office,” Lemmon said. Cuomo has already signed numerous bills that passed in the session’s final weeks, including speed cam legislation. So what’s the holdup on the lockbox bill? Lemmon said it could just be that it’s August, and things slow down while people are on vacation. She also noted that action could be on hold until after election season.

But if Cuomo continues to stall well after November 5, Lemmon said transit advocates would consider asking New Yorkers to take direct action by contacting the governor’s office to ask him to sign the bill.