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Posts from the "Andrew Cuomo" Category

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EPA to Cuomo: Paying for a Highway With Clean Water Funds? Not So Fast

So where's the "highway" section of the clean water fund? Governor Cuomo thinks it's hidden under "estuary." Image: EPA

Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to use “estuary protection” money from New York State’s clean water fund to build an enormous highway over the Hudson. Image: EPA

Will anyone stop Governor Andrew Cuomo from using the state’s clean water program to pay for a big new highway bridge to replace the Tappan Zee?

The governor wants to take out a $511 million low-interest loan to cover part of the multi-billion dollar Tappan Zee replacement. A panel of Cuomo appointees is expected to green-light the maneuver at an 11:30 a.m. vote today, but state legislators and good government advocates are putting up a fight, saying the deal sets a dangerous precedent for a program intended for projects like wastewater treatment plants.

Yesterday, the regional office of the EPA got involved, saying it wants the state to answer more questions before taking federal clean water funds designated for New York City and using them to build the new Tappan Zee.

The New York League of Conservation Voters is asking New Yorkers to contact members of the panel before the vote to urge them not to sign off on the loan.

Cuomo’s bridge funding ploy reeks of political desperation. Early in his term he committed to the Tappan Zee project as a symbol of his ability to get things done, but there’s no way to pay for the mega-bridge he wants to build without either large toll hikes or fiscal shenanigans and sleight of hand.

The governor is now entering a reelection campaign against Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who is acutely aware of the Tappan Zee toll situation. Hence the current monkey business with the clean water fund.

So far, Cuomo has skirted the question of paying for the new Tappan Zee, delaying appointments to a promised toll and financing task force. While he has secured a $1.5 billion low-interest federal loan, the largest ever approved by U.S. DOT, he’ll need more cheap money to finance the $3.9 billion bridge. Cuomo is looking outside the Thruway Authority and its at-risk bond rating to better-rated state authorities that have lots of cash.

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NYC Bike-Ped Projects Get $21 Million in Federal Funds From State DOT

On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo announced that the state DOT is awarding $21.2 million in federal highway safety funds over three years to nine projects in New York City that all include big safety improvements for biking and walking. Advocates welcomed the news, but still have questions about whether the state is allocating enough money to active transportation projects statewide.

Concrete pedestrian islands on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park just received millions in state funding, but advocates question if too many other projects are missing out. Image: NYC DOT

Concrete pedestrian islands on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park just received millions in state funding, but advocates question if too many other projects are missing out. Rendering: NYC DOT

The New York City awards are:

  • $4 million for 1.3 miles of Atlantic Avenue between Georgia Avenue and Conduit Boulevard in Brooklyn. The project features median extensions at seven intersections, turn restrictions, and new street trees to slow driver speeds.
  • $900,000 for 2.4 miles of Bruckner Boulevard between Bronx River Avenue and East 132nd Street in the Bronx to establish what the governor’s press release calls “a north/south pedestrian and bicycle corridor.”
  • $800,000 for East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. This project widens and installs pedestrian islands, clarifies complex intersections, studies signal timing for potential phasing changes and new signals, and narrows wide travel lanes.
  • $4 million for the third phase of a project on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, for 0.6 miles between East 171st Street and East 175th Street. This road reconstruction will add medians, pedestrian refuges, bike lane buffers and bollards.
  • $4 million for 0.7 miles of Fourth Avenue from 33rd to 47th Streets in Brooklyn. This project widens medians to up to 19 feet to include planted areas and pedestrian refuges.
  • $4 million for Tillary and Adams Streets in Brooklyn. Improvements include bike lanes and protected paths, larger pedestrian islands, and shorter crossings.
  • $1 million for 0.4 miles of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard between West 117th and 110th Streets. This project will construct concrete pedestrian islands that were installed last year with paint and other low-cost materials.
  • $500,000 for one mile of Riverside Drive between West 116th and 135th Streets. The project will add crosswalks and bicycle markings, as well as pedestrian islands and curb extensions at 116th and Riverside.
  • $2 million for 4.3 miles of Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. This project, managed by state DOT, includes new traffic signals and pedestrian countdown clocks, modified signal timing, pedestrian islands, and turn restrictions.

These grants are funded by the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program. The state’s announcement covers 2015 through 2017, the final three fiscal years funded by the latest federal transportation bill.

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Will Cuomo Help the MTA Make “Every Dollar Count”?

cuomo_prendergast

Governor Andrew Cuomo and MTA Chair Tom Prendergast. Photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit via Flickr CC license 2.0

The MTA has made big strides in recent years to streamline its operations, but without political leadership from Governor Cuomo, the agency won’t be able to tackle the high costs and inefficiencies that continue to hamper the city’s transit system.

In 2010, after an acute budget crisis, the MTA began a program to cut costs called Making Every Dollar Count [PDF]. Four years later, the MTA is on target to save $3.8 billion since the effort began. By 2017, the agency predicts that annual recurring savings will top $1.5 billion.

MTA leadership felt the cost-cutting program was necessary not only to balance the agency’s budget, but also to counter the authority’s reputation for being wasteful and inefficient. Jay Walder, MTA chair at that time, said the program was “the only way we can restore the MTA’s credibility and continue improving service in difficult times.”

As the full effects of the Great Recession took hold, the bottom fell out of transit authority’s budget in 2008 and 2009. It was the drop in real estate tax revenue that stung the most, with the MTA’s share of these taxes falling from $1.6 billion in 2007 to $389 million in 2009 [PDF]. By April 2009, the transit authority was facing a two-year budget deficit of $5 billion.

The fix that the state legislature enacted — a new tax on payrolls — lacked the bridge tolls recommended by a gubernatorial commission headed by former MTA chair Richard Ravitch. Albany lawmakers repeatedly cited the MTA’s reputation for bloat and waste to justify their refusal to enact tolls, much as they had during the congestion pricing debate the previous year.

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Questions Linger Over Cuomo’s Tappan Zee Transit Plans

On Monday, Governor Cuomo announced that the state would provide $20 million for transit service across the new Tappan Zee Bridge, and is applying for a federal grant as well. While this first step is welcome news, there are still more questions than answers about what this money will pay for and how the rest of the project’s bus system will be funded and operated.

That bus now has $20 million behind it, but more work remains before service can begin. Image: Tappan Zee Constructors/HDR Engineering

That bus now has $20 million behind it, but more work remains before service can begin. Image: Tappan Zee Constructors/HDR Engineering

Two months ago, the Tappan Zee transit task force issued its recommendations, proposing a series of bus improvements that should be operational when the bridge opens in 2018, plus further investments to follow. The report did not include cost estimates and was short on details about funding and implementation.

While the governor’s announcement appears to follow through on the task force’s work, it’s not clear exactly what the governor’s commitment of $20 million will pay for. The Journal News reports that “a state official said the $20 million has been earmarked in the state transportation budget,” but there are no other details, including which of the task force’s recommendations will be funded by the state money.

Cuomo also announced that the state DOT is applying for a $26.7 million federal TIGER grant to fund additional improvements. These include a mix of upgrades that have direct and indirect benefits to bus riders, including new bus stations, improved pedestrian connections to transit, “smart” traffic signals on Route 59 in Rockland County that include queue-jumps for buses, a “transit boulevard” on Route 119 in White Plains, and metering on ramps to I-287.

Streetsblog has asked the governor’s office and state DOT for more information about the $20 million announcement and its TIGER grant application. (Applications for the latest round of TIGER funds were due on Monday, but U.S. DOT refused to provide information on pending applications.)

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MTA-TWU Agreement: What’s the Plan Now, Governor?

The MTA’s financial situation became much murkier yesterday as Governor Cuomo announced that retroactive raises will be part of a labor agreement between the transit authority and the Transport Workers Union.

Photo: TWU

Senior Cuomo aide Howard Glaser, MTA Chair Tom Prendergast, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen at yesterday’s announcement. Photo: TWU

Up until yesterday’s announcement, MTA leadership had insisted that the authority’s financial health depended on “three years of net-zero wage growth.” Keeping labor costs flat was the key assumption behind the MTA’s financial plan.

Now the validity of the MTA’s financial plan is in doubt.

TWU members will receive raises of one percent for the first two years and 2 percent in each of the final three years. Since employees had been working without a contract for two years, the first two years represent retroactive raises.

MTA chairman Tom Prendergast insisted that the wage deal was “within the financial plan,” and that no fare hikes or service cuts would be necessary. But it is difficult to reconcile Prendergast’s claim with the MTA’s publicly available financial information.

The wage increases will likely cost the MTA between $200 million and $300 million a year, an amount that exceeds the agency’s projected cash balance for 2014 and beyond. The MTA financial plan projected a $64 million surplus by the end of 2014, falling to $6 million by 2015 and a $255 million deficit by 2017 [PDF].

So how will the MTA balance its budget without fare hikes or service cuts? Should we assume that the MTA leadership and Governor Cuomo have a plan?

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No, the MTA Can’t Afford Cuomo’s Transit Raids

I think most transit riders would laugh — cynically — at the idea that the MTA has more than enough funds to meet its needs. But this is exactly what the MTA’s chairman Tom Prendergast said when he learned that the state would be diverting $30 million from the MTA’s funding stream to balance the state budget.

Crowding on the 7 train platform. Photo: @lreynolds21363 via Gothamist

“Our needs are being met,” Prendergast said, apparently unwilling to speak out against his boss, Governor Cuomo.

Mayor de Blasio was equally sanguine about this raid on MTA funds. “We have to make sure the MTA has the resources they need. But from what I’m hearing at this point, they’re doing well,” de Blasio said.

Is this the same MTA that is regularly described in the press as “cash-strapped,” that made deep service cuts in 2009, leaving hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with longer waits, more crowded platforms, or no local bus route at all?

When asked about the $30 million diversion, an MTA spokesperson noted that the MTA was actually receiving more state funds this year.

Technically he is correct. The state collects a number of taxes and fees that are then sent into a fund that is “dedicated” for transit. The economy is recovering, more tax revenue is coming in, and as a result the pot of transit-dedicated funds is larger than it has been in recent years.

And it’s true that the $30 million diversion represents a small percentage of the MTA’s $13 billion annual budget. One has to appreciate the amount of public funds that do support transit, either from special taxes or state and local general funds. Last year, $5.1 billion in subsidies helped the MTA run the largest transit system in the nation, which is slightly more than it took in at the farebox.

But there are several reasons why the state’s raid on transit funds is bad policy and is fiscally irresponsible.

First, this year’s raid is not an isolated incident but rather comes on top of $280 million in diversions since 2009. Worse, Cuomo intends to take at least $20 million from the state’s transit fund every year until 2031, adding up to another $350 million.

Second, the tax revenue that the MTA relies on is volatile and subject to the ups and downs of the economy. Tax revenue is up this year, but could just as easily drop in the event of the next recession. The MTA should be able to take advantage of the “good times” to prepare for the next recession.

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Albany Delays Speed Cam Expansion — Time to Draft a Better Bill

Governor Cuomo and the leaders of the Assembly and State Senate all purportedly favor expanding NYC’s speed camera program, yet they failed to authorize the use of more cameras during budget negotiations. As it stands a speed cam bill won’t be acted on until later in April at the earliest, as both houses are adjourned and Cuomo refused to expedite a vote.

An upside to the delay: Advocates now have time to push for a better bill.

According to Capital New York and the Daily News, Cuomo yesterday rejected a request from Silver and Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein to fast-track a bill that would add 120 speed cameras to NYC’s program, and authorize cameras in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Bills are normally subject to a three-day waiting period before they can be voted on, and since Cuomo declined to issue a “message of necessity,” the bill has stalled for now. The Assembly meets again on April 7, and the Senate is adjourned until April 23.

“A source said Cuomo initially agreed to give the message, but then changed his mind,” the Daily News reports. “The source said he didn’t want to give another budget victory to Mayor de Blasio — who sees the speed cameras as a big part of his Vision Zero plan to cut down on pedestrian deaths.”

Under the proposed bill, any new cameras allowed by Albany would be subject to the same restrictions as the 20 cameras the city has now, which can only be used near schools during the school day, though most fatal crashes occur during evening and nighttime hours and on weekends. If legislators could be convinced in the coming weeks to ease or eliminate these restrictions, speed cameras in NYC would be far more effective.

Meanwhile, an analysis from Right of Way assigned a number to what a built-out NYC speed camera program might look like. From a press release issued Monday:

The de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero Action Plan reports that “In Washington D.C., at intersections where speed cameras are in use, the number of crashes and injuries has gone down by 20%.” Based on population, for the same coverage and reduction of crashes as the D.C. model, New York needs 1,000 speed cameras.

Said another anonymous source to the Daily News: ”The Assembly and everyone knows the Senate and the governor supports speed cameras for New York City and Long Island and are committed to seeing this bill pass in April.” New Yorkers’ safety depends on it.

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Cuomo Gets His Way, and Transit Riders Get the Shaft

Straphangers pack a subway platform in Queens this morning. The $30 million Governor Cuomo diverted from the MTA budget could have been used to address subway overcrowding. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/lreynolds21363/status/450610751632588800##@lreynolds21363## via ##http://gothamist.com/2014/03/31/mta_is_trying_to_break_your_heart.php##Gothamist##

Straphangers pack a train platform in Queens this morning. The $30 million Governor Cuomo diverted from the MTA budget could have been used to address subway overcrowding. Photo: @lreynolds21363 via Gothamist

Governor Andrew Cuomo won’t be denied. Overriding proposals from the Assembly and State Senate, the governor continues to pick the pocket of New York City’s transit system, diverting $30 million from the MTA in the state budget.

Cuomo had originally proposed a $40 million raid, so it could have been worse. But because this diversion will be used to pay off bonds that don’t mature until 2031, it sets a troubling precedent — Cuomo envisions yanking $20 million from the MTA every year to cover borrowing costs the state had previously promised to take care of.

Albany transit raids have become an annual rite in recent years, as the state government tries to make up for a structural budget deficit by treating the MTA like a piggy bank. While today’s raids aren’t as big as five years ago (advocates have significantly raised public awareness of them), Cuomo still managed to reach a new low this year. By keeping a $30 million diversion in the final budget, the governor overrode both houses of the state legislature, which had rejected any theft from the MTA in their budget proposals.

This time around, Cuomo also got a last-minute assist from MTA Chair Tom Prendergast, who said the agency never asked the governor to let it keep the money because its “needs are being met.” But what about the needs of transit riders?

While this transit raid won’t set off a round of service cuts, it also deprives the MTA of funds that could be used to expand service or defray future fare hikes. Significant service cuts enacted in 2010 have yet to be restored, and Cuomo’s budgetary monkey business makes it a lot harder to bring those trains and buses back. As the Straphangers Campaign and the Riders Alliance pointed out earlier this month, if not for this raid, the MTA would have funds to improve frequency and reduce crowding on several subway lines while expanding bus service on more than a dozen routes.

Cuomo has repeatedly refused to enact legislation that would make the impact of these raids more transparent to the public. This weekend New Yorkers got another reminder why.

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What Transit Riders Could Get If Cuomo’s Transit Raid Doesn’t Go Through

How much transit service could the MTA add if Governor Cuomo’s proposed $40 million transit raid doesn’t make Albany’s final budget? Here’s a taste, courtesy of the Straphangers Campaign and the Riders Alliance.

Photo: Wikipedia

Service that was cut from seven subway lines in 2010, serving 300,000 weekday riders, could be restored. More than a dozen weekday bus routes could be added across the five boroughs, plus weekend service for more than a dozen other routes. The LIRR could run more trains and MetroNorth could add cars.

It would all add up to quicker commutes, less crowding, and more freedom for New Yorkers to get around without a car.

Straphangers and the Riders Alliance based the potential service restorations and additions on the MTA’s estimates of cost savings achieved with the 2010 service cuts.

In their budget proposals, both the Assembly and the State Senate rejected the $40 million transit raid in the governor’s executive budget. The issue is expected to be decided during final negotiations this week between the legislature and Cuomo.

The Cuomo camp has tried to diminish the significance of the raid, which would compel the MTA to pay off bonds for capital projects that the state had previously promised to cover. The advocates’ list of foregone service helps bring home the point that there is in fact a very real cost whenever Albany decides to divert revenue from transit.

Here’s the full list of service that $40 million could buy, according to Straphangers and the Riders Alliance:

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Without Action From Cuomo, Subways Doomed to Endless State of Disrepair

Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for $2 billion in tax cuts in his next budget, citing growing surpluses. But a new report on New York City’s infrastructure from the Center for an Urban Future makes it clear that there is no surplus — the state is responsible for billions in unfunded infrastructure repairs to city subways.

Like his toll cuts, Cuomo’s planned tax cuts will hurt New Yorkers who depend on transit. Photo: AP/SI Advance

All told, the city faces a $34 billion gap between basic repairs and maintenance and the amount of money available over the next five years. Surprisingly, a large chunk of this funding gap is attributable to New York’s subway system, which has a $10.5 billion backlog of needed maintenance and repair.

Thirty-seven percent of subway signals have exceeded their 50-year useful life, and 26 percent are over 70 years old. Signal upgrades are essential because modern signals dramatically increase the number of trains that can run in an hour. When the L train’s system was upgraded, the MTA increased the number of rush hour trains from 15 to 26.

Subway stations have gotten to such a state of disrepair, says the report, that a former MTA spokesman confesses, “The MTA has basically conceded that you will never get to a state of good repair… It’s simply not possible.” Under current funding levels, at least.

Funding the subways isn’t the city’s responsibility. The MTA is under the control of the governor, who appoints the authority’s president and nominates its board members. But the governor has largely ignored the MTA’s needs. Instead, Cuomo threatens to take $40 million in dedicated revenues from the MTA in the next budget.

He also pushed the MTA board to cut tolls on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (again, less money for the MTA), a move so fiscally irresponsible that it led former Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch to testify that it may be illegal.

The MTA’s shortfall isn’t entirely Cuomo’s fault. In 1975 the federal government contributed 78 percent of the MTA’s capital budget, “but only 25 percent of the MTA budget for 2010-11,” the report notes.

But that certainly doesn’t excuse the governor for actually taking money from transit. Cuomo should assume leadership of the issue and make the case for more transit funds to Congress and the president.

Instead, Cuomo focuses on cutting taxes for corporations and property owners. The governor argues that cutting taxes will make New York more “business friendly.” But to underfund critical infrastructure is to harm the state’s business climate. Until we fund basic repairs and maintenance, there simply is no surplus.