Albany’s repeated plundering of the MTA’s dedicated funds has robbed transit riders of more than $140 million in the past year alone. With a $9 billion budget gap looming, straphangers could end up paying again very soon. An impossible fix, you ask? I know the subject is Albany and we’ve all been conditioned to think that change is hopeless, but as it happens, all it takes is one person, the governor of New York, to say enough is enough.
For as long as he’s in office, Andrew Cuomo can put a stop to the practice of raiding dedicated transit funds, without waiting for the state legislature to take action. Not only would this policy change be good for transit riders, advocates say in a new report, it would be consistent with principles of good government.
The report, released today by the non-profit Reinvent Albany, lays out 11 model executive orders that Cuomo can institute immediately to improve state government’s transparency, ethical standards, and spending practices. The orders are endorsed by a coalition of good government groups, transit advocates, and policy experts. Reinvent Albany is directed by former Streetsblog contributor John Kaehny, and Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton is a principal funder.
“These orders are tailor made for Governor Cuomo to use to launch his campaign to transform New York government,” said Kaehny. “Governor Cuomo will have enormous unilateral power to make government more open and accountable. The ball is in his court to do that.”
So how can Cuomo preserve the integrity of transit funding and prevent NYC straphangers from footing the bill for the state’s budget problems?
From the report:
The governor orders his administration not to propose a budget, program bill or other legislation that would divert dedicated funds or revenue sources from their intended “sole purpose.” Since the governor originates the budget, and he can veto legislative budget additions, this has the effect of creating a “governor’s locked box” for dedicated funds. We created this model order because we believe that diverting dedicated funds is bad governance and violates the pledge to taxpayers that was made when the fund was created. Over the past three years, at least $1.8 billion has been diverted from dedicated funds, most without the knowledge or understanding of the public.
The Governor’s Locked Box has the backing of the Citizen’s Union, NYPIRG, the League of Women Voters, the New York State Council of Machinists, Transportation Alternatives, and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
The locked box proposal lays responsibility for protecting transit riders squarely on Cuomo, who hinted last week that he’s comfortable with the budgetary shell games that erode dedicated funds. In response to the report, a spokesman for Cuomo told the Times, “The governor-elect will consider executive orders at the appropriate time. The governor-elect’s policy views in many of these areas are quite clear from the policy books published during the campaign.”