This week kicked off with news that Speaker Sheldon Silver would remove Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $40 million transit raid from the Assembly’s budget plan. Today comes word [PDF] that the State Senate has followed suit, rejecting the transit raid in its own budget resolution.
A united front from the Senate and Assembly provides a boost to advocates as the legislature begins two weeks of negotiations with Cuomo over the final budget, which covers a fiscal year beginning April 1.
It’s also a step up from last year, when a $20 million raid was rejected by the Senate but remained in the Assembly’s resolution and was included in the final budget. “We have a much stronger hand going into the negotiations [this year],” said Nadine Lemmon of Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
The governor’s office has claimed that this budget maneuver does not count as a raid because it’s taking taxes dedicated to MTA operations and diverting it to service debt that funds MTA capital needs. But Comptroller Tom DiNapoli calls it a transit raid, and advocates point out that it reneges on a commitment the state made over a decade ago and shifts funds away from the MTA to effectively create new money on the state’s balance sheet.
Even if the $40 million transit raid is removed from this year’s budget, Cuomo is likely to attempt similar moves in the future to pay off the state bond with MTA funds. His financial plan includes annual raids of $20 million, which would total nearly $350 million by 2031.
“Three hundred and fifty million dollars is a big chunk of change. You can’t bleed the authority in that manner and expect them to perform,” Lemmon said.
Another one of the governor’s hits to MTA revenues is also having ripple effects in the Senate. Cuomo’s plan to deepen Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll discounts for truckers and Staten Island residents would cost $14 million annually, with the MTA and the state splitting the cost evenly. That kicked off a flurry of press releases and events by Brooklyn legislators angling for a discount for their constituents, too.
Now, they’re using the Senate budget plan to call on the MTA to study and recommend VNB toll discounts for non-Staten Island residents who drive over the bridge. Wholesale reform of New York’s broken toll system, as the state begins to figure out how to fund the MTA’s next multi-billion dollar capital plan, is not on Albany’s agenda.