Hours after the MTA announced that it would be scaling back planned fare hikes in part because of better-than-expected tax receipts, Governor Cuomo vetoed two transparency bills designed to discourage Albany from siphoning away those very same dedicated transit funds. The governor capped his veto with a brazen denial: Despite getting caught raiding the MTA’s budget earlier this year, Cuomo insisted that he’s done no such thing.
With the news that upcoming fare hikes won’t hurt so much, straphangers might wonder why Cuomo’s vetoes matter. After all, if things are looking better than expected, what’s the big deal?
To answer that question, let’s look at the recent history of transit raids. With New York state’s budget facing chronic shortfalls, Albany has diverted more than $260 million since 2009 from taxes that are supposed to be dedicated to funding transit, including multiple raids under Cuomo’s watch.
One of the bills Cuomo vetoed yesterday would have required the MTA to produce a report detailing the impacts of those post-2008 service cuts, measuring whether the projected cost savings actually materialized, and coming up with a plan to restore the lost service.
That bill overwhelmingly passed both the Assembly and Senate, but in his veto message Cuomo said the MTA has already performed an internal analysis of service cuts in line with federal guidelines and has announced $18 million in service enhancements this year. (By comparison, the systemwide cuts enacted in 2010 saved the authority $93 million.)
Though Cuomo criticized the first bill as re-litigating the past, the second, known as the transit lockbox bill, is focused squarely on preventing similar robberies in the future.
Only a constitutional amendment can force the governor’s hand in budget decisions, so the lockbox bill was designed as a transparency measure instead. If transit funds are raided, it would have required a statement from the governor’s budget office laying out how much is being diverted from transit and how it will hurt transit riders. By requiring the disclosure of impacts, advocates hoped that it would make the governor and state legislators less likely to propose budget raids in the first place.