Cuomo Electioneering: Robbing From Transit to Pay Staten Island Motorists

Which governor is worse on transit issues, Chris Christie or Andrew Cuomo? Amazingly, New York’s chief executive could win this race to the bottom. The latest move from Cuomo would cut a guaranteed source of revenue for the MTA that Albany can never raid for its own purposes.

Ken Lovett at the Daily News had the scoop this morning that Cuomo will soon announce a gift to Staten Island car commuters: Verrazano Bridge tolls will drop to $5.50 from $6.00 or $6.36. (Current tolls vary depending on how often people use the bridge.) Tolls will also be cut for trucks that frequently use the bridge.

Any drop in toll revenue is going to weaken the MTA’s finances. So, while Verrazano car commuters get reduced tolls this election year, transit riders still have nothing but scheduled fare hikes to look forward to.

It remains to be seen exactly how much revenue the toll cut will divert from the MTA. Cuomo is expected to announce it this afternoon, and word is the governor will say that the state will shore up the agency’s budget with general funds.

Make no mistake, though, the governor is undermining the MTA. For one thing, revenue from tolls is the only raid-proof source of funds for the MTA. The money goes straight into the agency’s accounts instead of passing through the state first, so Albany can’t pocket it. Cuomo may commit to “making the MTA whole” at his press conference, but any general funds spent this year won’t necessarily be there in the future. Albany’s support for transit has a way of shriveling up over time.

This isn’t the first time Cuomo has reduced dedicated MTA revenue while substituting general funds. The governor paid for a cut to the Payroll Mobility Tax the same way in 2011. As the Tri-State Transportation Campaign pointed out last month, the amount the state puts in has remained flat, while the PMT revenues likely would have risen if the full tax had remained in effect.

Other likely effects of the Verrazano toll cut: Tougher negotiations with the TWU, which can now point to what appears to be slack in the MTA budget (but isn’t really), and a slightly less compelling case for the Move NY toll reform plan, which swaps higher tolls on crossings into Manhattan for lower tolls on outlying bridges like the Verrazano.

And yet, the City Hall Twitter feed had nothing but smiles and thank yous this morning for Andrew Cuomo, the governor who robs transit riders to win votes.