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Posts from the Andrew Cuomo Category

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On Transit Funding, Emperor Cuomo Has No Clothes

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget includes no new funds for the MTA capital program — a brazen departure from the funding pledge Cuomo made just a few months ago. Transit advocates laid out the broken promises at a press conference in Brooklyn this morning.

Back in October, Cuomo reached an agreement with Mayor de Blasio that the state would contribute $8.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year, $26 billion capital program if the city chipped in $2.5 billion. Cuomo didn’t reveal how the state would meet its obligation, however.

Then earlier this month, Cuomo announced his 2016 transportation agenda at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, committing to “thinking bigger and better and building the 21st century transit system New Yorkers deserve.” Was that the prelude to a big reveal with specifics on the governor’s plan to pay for transit?

Transit advocates say the governor's proposed budget breaks his promise to fund the MTA capital plan. Photo: David Meyer

Transit advocates held Governor Cuomo to his October pledge to fill the gap in the MTA capital plan, funding that’s nowhere to be found in his executive budget. Photo: David Meyer

Nope. The budget Cuomo put forward later that week includes no additional funding for the capital program. The state had previously provided $1 billion to the MTA, leaving a hole of $7.3 billion unaccounted for.

Instead of spelling out where that money will come from, Cuomo’s budget delays any allocations until after the MTA has exhausted other means of paying for the capital program. In vague, non-binding language, the document says the state doesn’t have to meet its obligation until 2026, which would enable Cuomo to kick the can until he’s out of office.

Speaking outside the museum this morning,Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Gene Russianoff of the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, and Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin said Cuomo’s transit commitment was not really a commitment at all.

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Someone’s Gotta Pay for the Cuomo Transpo Plan, And It Won’t Be Motorists

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In Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget, Thruway drivers get a toll cut while New York City pays more for CUNY and Medicaid. Photo: NY.gov

Andrew Cuomo ran down his list of big transportation projects in the State of the State Address yesterday, and despite the billions it will take to build everything on his agenda, the governor didn’t say anything about how he’ll raise the money to pay for it. He did work in a line about toll cuts for Thruway drivers, though.

In the speech, Cuomo marveled at New York’s history of building “the longest bridges, the deepest tunnels” and set his sights on eclipsing the legacy of Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Under Rockefeller in the 1960s, New York built a staggering amount of highways, but his most important contribution to the state’s transportation system had less to do with physical infrastructure and more with the structure of institutions.

By forming the MTA in 1968, Rockefeller wrested control of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority from Robert Moses and funneled its surplus toll revenues to the New York region’s transit system instead of the master builder’s road projects. Who knows what a busted mess New York City would be today if Moses had retained power much longer.

When it comes to transportation, Cuomo’s version of thinking big is all about monumental objects, not major institutional shifts that can deliver long-term prosperity. If he was secretly waiting until the last conceivable moment to come out for a transformational policy like the Move NY toll reform plan, the State of the State was pretty much it. No such luck — it looks like New York will be mired in traffic, thanks to its free bridges, at least until there’s a new governor.

Meanwhile, Cuomo’s commitments to road spending, the MTA capital program, and mega-projects of varying merit (LIRR third track beats the pants off the Airtrain to LaGuardia) still run into the tens of billions of dollars. Even if some of these projects end up just not happening (remember the Aqueduct convention center that Cuomo plugged a couple of years ago?), New Yorkers should be worried about who’s going to pick up the tab for it all. Especially the road projects, because if Cuomo has shown us anything about how he likes to pay for infrastructure, it’s that he’s averse to asking motorists to cover the cost of the highways and bridges they use.

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Here’s the Risk to Straphangers of Kicking the Can on the MTA Capital Plan

Rumors are swirling that the long-awaited answer to the key question vexing the MTA — how the state’s $8.3 billion share of the unfunded portion of the MTA capital plan will be paid for — is that dreaded four-letter word: D-E-B-T.

According to the terms of a deal reached by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio in October, any additional debt should not be backed by MTA fares. But that deal could unravel — now, or in the future, when Cuomo is out of office.

What is the risk to straphangers if the deal implodes? I took a shot at calculating the answer, using my Balanced Transportation Analyzer model (Excel file).

The bottom line is that if the October agreement doesn’t hold up, financing the entire $8.3 billion “on the backs of transit users” would raise fares around 22-23 cents per ride. That would equate to an average 12 percent fare hike on top of the current average fare of $1.92. (That figure takes into account unlimiteds, free transfers, senior discounts, etc. and thus is well below the nominal $2.75 single-ride rate.)

The current 30-day unlimited price of $116.50 would rise by $14.00, shooting to $130.50, with the annualized increase of $168 surpassing the $149 cost of a Citi Bike membership. And the increase would be on top of the 4 percent biennial fare hikes the MTA has programmed indefinitely to cover rising operations costs.

As harsh as that would be, it’s a mere half of the impact I estimated here last May, before the MTA trimmed both the scope and cost of its 2015-2019 capital plan and before Governor Cuomo offloaded $2.5 billion in financing obligations onto Mayor de Blasio, reducing the state’s unfunded commitment to $8.3 billion.

On the other hand, holding the hit to 12 percent assumes favorable financing, notwithstanding the Federal Reserve’s boost in interest rates last month as well as the potential strain on the state’s borrowing capacity from other infrastructure projects that the governor announced last week. Just a one point increase in the MTA’s borrowing rate, to 5 percent instead of the 4 percent I’ve assumed, would tack another three or four cents onto the required fare hike.

In addition to further impoverishing millions of low-income New Yorkers, a 12 percent increase in subway and bus fares would be projected to have these consequences, based on the BTA model:

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Cuomo’s “Ambitious” Transport Program: a Hodgepodge of Pandering

Try to picture this: Governor Cuomo, announcing a big MTA funding commitment, promises subway and bus fares won’t rise for four years. And in fact, people who buy monthly MetroCards will get a de facto fare cut via tax credits. Infrastructure upgrades and lower fares — sweet deal.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast rode an E train from Chambers St. to 34 St.-Penn Station on Thu., September 25, 2014 to assure New Yorkers that all security precautions are being taken, and that the subway system is safe amid reports of unspecified threats. Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

Cuomo has mastered the optics of transportation policy. Photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit via wikimedia

Hard to imagine? For New York City transit riders, yes. But not for people who drive on upstate roads, because yesterday Cuomo promised them the same thing — a huge funding commitment and lower tolls. The rest of New York will be paying for their subsidized driving, while transit riders in the city will face the usual fare hike every two years.

Modest, predictable fare increases aren’t a bad way to go — it beats getting socked by a huge fare hike all at once after putting it off for a long time. What’s galling about Cuomo’s highway subsidies is that the governor is wantonly pandering under the guise of “economic development.” People and industries that depend on upstate highways are a constituency he fawns over; New York City transit riders he takes for granted.

The Thruway toll cuts are part of a parade of proposals that Cuomo is calling “the most ambitious transportation development plan in modern history,” in the run-up to his State of the State address next week. A better description would be “Andrew Cuomo’s transportation politics on steroids.”

The plan has everything we’ve come to expect from Cuomo — giveaways to upstate motorists, glossy monuments of limited practical value (today’s installment: expanding the Javits Center), and no real explanation of how he’s going to pay for it all. Other than the LIRR third track project, which is great, there’s nothing in the package that addresses a major transportation problem or opportunity. This is ambitious?

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Who Will Pay for Cuomo’s Upstate Highway Spending Spree?

Governor Andrew Cuomo continued his run-up to the 2016 State of the State today by announcing a multi-billion dollar subsidy for New York State Thruway drivers and a proposed $22 billion in spending on upstate road projects.

Cuomo would freeze Thruway tolls for all drivers “until at least 2020,” reduce tolls for Thruway motorists who drive the most, commercial traffic included, and eliminate tolls for vehicles owned by farmers, according to a Cuomo press releaseThe toll cuts would be offset by roughly $2 billion in state subsidies for the Thruway Authority. There is no word on how the proposal would affect tolls on the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

While shifting the costs of state highways away from the people who use them, Cuomo has proposed what he calls “the largest capital program in the state’s history” — $22 billion on roads and bridges, “especially in Upstate.” The plan reportedly includes all of $30 million for upstate transit, but transit isn’t mentioned in Cuomo’s press release.

Details on the capital program are scarce. The timetable is unknown. Most important, Cuomo hasn’t said what exactly the $22 billion will be spent on or where it will come from, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario that doesn’t rely heavily on additional general fund borrowing.

Cuomo’s State of the State address is set for January 13.

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Cuomo’s Long Island Growth Plan: More Trains and More Traffic

This morning, Governor Cuomo announced plans to move forward with the Long Island Railroad’s project for a third track on the main line between Floral Park and Hicksville in Nassau County. At the same time, Cuomo wants to study a car tunnel linking Long Island to either the Bronx, Westchester, or Connecticut.

The governor is proposing the construction of a third track along this 9.8 mile stretch of the Long Island Railroad. Image: Long Island Index

Cuomo wants to move forward with a third track to increase capacity along this 9.8-mile stretch of the Long Island Railroad. Image: Long Island Index

The LIRR project will lay 9.8 miles of track, primarily in the existing right of way, increasing capacity and hopefully spurring walkable development along one of the railroad’s busiest corridors. Expanding the main line will help existing commuters and wring more value out of the region’s most expensive mega-project, the East Side Access tunnel connecting LIRR to Grand Central.

Currently, nearly two-fifths of LIRR riders use the main line’s two tracks. With the Ronkonkoma, Port Jefferson, Montauk, and Oyster Bay branches all converging on the main line, service in the peak direction runs on both tracks during rush hours, severely constraining travel in the other direction. Small hiccups in operations often lead to major delays. With the additional track, ridership is expected to increase 40 percent, Cuomo said.

Regional transportation advocates have been calling for a third track for years. A 2014 study by the Long Island Index estimated that, in the 10 years following its completion, the project will bring 14,000 jobs, 35,000 residents, and $103 million in annual property tax revenue to the region.

“This is a project that is critical for Long Island,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool. “It’s critical if Long Island wants to address their congestion issues. It’s critical if Long Island wants to be a community that sheds its bedroom community status.”

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Will Meaningful Hit-and-Run Reform Be on Albany’s 2016 Agenda?

Governor Cuomo has vetoed bills that would have set back efforts to reform state hit-and-run statutes.

For years, prosecutors and traffic safety advocates have asked Albany lawmakers to fix state law that rewards drunk drivers who flee the scene of a serious crash, since the penalty for hit-and-run can be less severe than the penalty for drunk drivers who stay at the scene.

Legislation passed by the Assembly and State Senate this year was intended to help by creating the offense of aggravated leaving the scene. But the proposed new law would have been all but useless, since it would have severely limited instances when the charge could be applied.

A coalition of prosecutors and advocates, including crash victims and their loved ones, had been calling for the bill to be amended or vetoed since last summerInstead of creating a complicated new offense, prosecutors want Albany to simply elevate felony penalties under existing law, by changing the charge for leaving the scene of a serious injury from a class E to a class D felony, and the charge for a fatal hit-and-run from a class D felony to class C. (Class E is New York’s least severe felony category.)

Hit-and-run crashes are an epidemic in New York City, and offenders are almost never held accountable. A Transportation Alternatives report released last week found that of 4,000 hit-and-run crashes in 2015 that resulted in injury and death, fewer than 1 percent of drivers were prosecuted. Only 50 cases were handled by trained NYPD crash investigators, with 28 drivers arrested. The tiny fraction of NYC offenders who are prosecuted often avoid severe penalties.

Prosecutors feared that adoption of the law as passed by the Assembly and State Senate would have deterred the legislature from enacting reforms long sought by law enforcers.

Cuomo vetoed the twin bills last Friday.

From a statement released Saturday by TA Executive Director Paul White:

Governor Cuomo recognized the need for stronger and simpler legislation without the serious flaws of these bills. Even the sponsors, State Senator Funke and Assembly Member Thiele, supported the veto of their own bills. The legislature must now produce a version that aligns the penalty of leaving the scene of an injury-crash with the penalty for DWI, and which removes the perverse incentive under current law. We look forward to seeing Governor Cuomo sign a stronger bill in 2016.

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Today: Urge Cuomo to Amend or Kill Disastrous Albany Hit-and-Run Bill

District attorneys and traffic safety advocates across the state are asking Governor Cuomo to kill a bill that would stall efforts to reform state laws that create an incentive for drunk drivers to leave the scene of harmful crashes.

This year the Assembly and State Senate passed a bill (A5266/S4747) to create the offense of aggravated leaving the scene, a class C felony. Prosecutors and advocates have repeatedly requested that lawmakers fix a flaw in state law that makes it more attractive for drunk drivers to flee the scene of a crash, since the penalty for drivers who hit-and-run is less severe than the penalty for drunk drivers who stay at the scene. But the new legislation severely limits when the more severe charge may be applied.

As passed by the legislature, the new charge may be brought only when a driver leaves the scene of a crash resulting in the death or serious injury of more than one person. It must be determined that the crash was caused by reckless driving, and the driver must be driving without a valid license due to a prior DWI or leaving the scene conviction, or have a prior conviction for leaving the scene or DWI in the last 10 years.

Prosecutors are asking instead that Albany elevate felony penalties prescribed by existing law, by changing the charge for leaving the scene of a serious injury from a class E to a class D felony, and the charge for a fatal hit-and-run from a class D felony to class C. (Class E is New York’s least severe felony category.)

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NYC Toll Reform Makes Too Much Sense to Fade Away

Don’t count out Move New York just yet.

Cuomo’s budget promises become much easier to keep if he also adopts the Move New York plan.

When Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio hashed out their deal to fill the gap in the MTA capital program, it seemed like a window of opportunity was closing on the plan to cut congestion and fund transit by reforming the city’s dysfunctional toll system. The governor would borrow $8.3 billion and pay it back with general fund revenues to cover the state’s end, and that would be that (at least for the next five years).

As it happens, the window might still be open.

Cuomo has repeatedly rejected Move NY as a political non-starter, but the number of elected officials signing on to the plan — which would put a price on driving in the most gridlocked parts of town while lowering tolls on outlying crossings — keeps growing. The latest endorser is City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who reps western Queens and came out for the plan yesterday.

Van Bramer’s district includes the approaches to the Queensboro Bridge. With no price on that crossing, local streets jam up with drivers hunting for a bargain. For western Queens and similar districts, like northwest Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan, a big part of the appeal of Move New York is its promise of relief from the road-clogging, horn-honking mess. For electeds like James Vacca, whose district includes the Throggs Neck and Whitestone bridges, it’s the discounts on less-traveled crossings that sweeten the deal.

So what would be the appeal for Cuomo, who’s given no indication that he cares about fixing New York City’s pestilential traffic? In a thrilling twist, it might come down to the imperatives of budget math.

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How Did Straphangers Make Out in the Cuomo-de Blasio MTA Deal?

On Saturday, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio reached a deal to close the gap in the MTA’s five-year, $29 billion capital program, with the state pitching in $8.3 billion and the city contributing $2.5 billion. The agreement ends a drawn out political fight between the governor and the mayor. But enough about politics. How do transit riders make out in the deal?

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There’s no new MTA debt in the deal reached this weekend, but it’s held together by the threat of mutually assured destruction. Photo cropped from Jere Keys/Flickr

The terms of the Cuomo-de Blasio fight were largely about how much of the burden of paying for the capital program will fall on straphangers. The size and extent of the capital program were ostensibly in doubt without new revenue sources, but the last time the MTA faced a large gap like this, in 2011, no one stepped up to close it, and the agency simply borrowed about $10 billion.

The interest on that $10 billion will be paid back by bus and subway riders in the form of higher fares. A repeat this time around would have put even more upward pressure on the fare.

On its surface, the deal reached over the weekend avoids that scenario, since Cuomo pledged that the state’s contribution will not be backed by MTA fares, but will be “provided by State sources.” (For reference, check the four provisions in the deal, lifted verbatim from the city’s announcement, at the bottom of this post.) Cuomo hasn’t gotten more specific than that, but presumably most of the “state sources” will be accounted for by the general fund or, more likely, bonds backed by the general fund. And that’s where another major sticking point comes into play.

Each of the last few years, Cuomo has pulled off a back-door transit raid by making the MTA pay off bonds that the state had originally promised to cover, even though a 2011 law requires the governor and the state legislature to declare a state of emergency to justify raiding MTA funds for other purposes. Here’s how the governor found a way around that: He said he wasn’t raiding the MTA. Simple as that. What’s to stop Cuomo from doing the same thing with new bonds issued to fill the gap in this capital program?

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