Independent Watchdogs on Cuomo’s MTA Budget: Show Us the Money

Add the Independent Budget Office to the transit advocates and New York City electeds who aren’t buying Governor Andrew Cuomo’s claim that the state has met its commitment to fund the MTA. The IBO sums up the reasons not to take Cuomo at his word in a short brief released this week.

In October, Cuomo agreed that the state would contribute $8.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year capital program. Last year’s state budget accounted for $1 billion of that, but when Cuomo released his executive budget in January, it included no additional state funds for the capital program. Cuomo is still short $7.3 billion.

“Basically, it signals an alarm that funding for the system is precarious and uncertain,” Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool said at a press conference in January. “It pushes the state’s pledge potentially into another administration.”

The IBO’s brief is wonky but short, and totally worth a read if you want to see the workings of MTA capital funding laid out in detail.

In theory, Cuomo’s budget obliges the state to follow through on its financial commitment, but here’s why that commitment remains very shaky, in bullet point form:

  • Cuomo’s budget kicks the can down the road by requiring the MTA to exhaust all other funding sources, include loans, before it receives state money. This could take several years.
  • The bill doesn’t require the state to make good on its funding commitment until FY 2025-2026 or “by the completion of the capital program,” which could be even later. (That’s because, while every five years the capital program lists projects to receive funding, the process of constructing those projects often takes much longer.)
  • Because the state and city agreed to make their MTA contributions on “the same schedule on a proportionate basis,” and the city is waiting on firm funding from the state, the city’s share ($2.5 billion) isn’t going to materialize as long as the state keeps delaying.

So Cuomo can say he’s solved the MTA funding problem, while in fact all he’s done is tee it up to become someone else’s problem in several years, when he’s no longer governor.