By Bill Parry
When members of Riders Alliance lugged a 6-foot-tall cardboard cutout of Gov. Cuomo onto the No. 7 subway line in July, the public transit advocates were trying to get the governor to address the MTA budget and its $14 billion deficit.
On Tuesday, the Alliance joined other groups, such as the Straphangers Campaign and Tri-State Transportation Campaign, to alert 9 million daily MTA riders that Cuomo’s 2016-17 budget proposal contains no new money for the MTA capital program, even after the governor announced plans to “modernize and fundamentally transform the MTA” with billions of dollars in investment.
His critics claim instead of providing any of the $7.3 billion in state funding the governor promised toward the capital program, Cuomo’s budget offers only a non-binding reiteration of his 2015 promise to fund the program. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who committed $2.5 billion in MTA funding, to be provided when the state makes its contribution, also does not include any of that new funding in his 2016-17 budget proposal.
“Gov. Cuomo promised the world to transit riders, but all he is delivering is another IOU,” Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin said. “After all these promises, transit riders assumed there would be cash in the budget, but it turns out it’s just another promise. The emperor has no clothes, or more accurately, he promises he will have clothes in a few years, but he won’t say exactly when. If Gov. Cuomo is serious about investing in public transit, he needs to provide funding this year instead of just another promise that it may happen in the future.”
On Jan. 8, Cuomo visited the New York Transit Museum to outline his commitment of $7.3 billion for the MTA capital program in addition to the $1 billion in last year’s budget. In the actual budget Cuomo released Jan. 13, he proposes to allocate zero funds toward the $7.3 billion remaining in the State’s commitment.
The budget also lays out no specific timetable for allocating those funds. Instead it has non-binding language claiming that the state will allocate its share of the funds “after MTA capital resources planned for the capital program, not including additional city and state funds, have been exhausted.”
Gene Russianoff of the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign said, “Downstate transit systems are in desperate need of repair, but Gov. Cuomo has cynically chosen to respond with a plan that’s opaque, unclear and a textbook exercise in one level of government trying to offload its responsibilities on another.”
Beyond the $1 billion that is already appropriated and available for their use, there are no additional new appropriations in the budget because the MTA does not need it now, officials say. However, there is very clear and direct legislation that makes the commitment a matter of law—and provides that the state funds will be available whenever the MTA needs it.
“The governor put unambiguous and ironclad language in the budget to make good on his commitment to provide $8.3 billion towards the MTA’s capital plan,” a state Division of Budget spokesman said.
The public transit advocates warned that if funding fails to materialize, it could lead to a radical halt to MTA plans for upgrading subway and bus equipment in the coming years or to unsupported MTA borrowing that could result in fare hikes and service reductions for riders.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr