Stop Cuomo's MTA Raid, Says Green Candidate for Governor
Howie Hawkins, the Teamster seeking the Green Party nomination for Governor, called upon state lawmakers today to stop Cuomo's proposed $40 million raid of the MTA.
"The MTA suffers from years of chronic underfunding from state and federal politicians. The MTA is vital to the New York City regional economy and to reducing carbon emissions and climate change. Lawmakers need to increase funding for the MTA, both for operating costs and capital improvements," said Hawkins.
New York City has seen significant cuts in its mass transit services and repeated hikes in fares. Low-income people are especially impacted by fare hikes. One quarter of New York's workers use mass transit to get to work. Subway riders pay 70% of the cost of the system, much higher than in other cities and states.
The Paterson and Cuomo administrations diverted to other purposes a total of $260 million in the last few years that had been dedicated solely to transit. The diversion of dedicated transit funds in the fall of 2009 directly triggered the deepest transit service cuts in New York City history. These cuts included axing 36 bus routes, eliminating 570 bus stops, killing all or parts of three subway lines, and burdening millions of city and suburban riders with greater waits, more crowding, extra transfers, and longer trips. Commuter rail riders have had trains eliminated and stops added to remaining trains.
The legislature in 2013 passed a "Lock Box Bill" (AA5804 / S3837) to expressly prohibit the diversion of funds dedicated to public transportation systems to other purposes unless expressly authorized by statute and unless the Director of the Budget prepares a statement explaining the reasons for such diversion. Cuomo vetoed the bill on the grounds that he should have more power to transfer funds if he feels there is an emergency.
The MTA's budget precariously balanced. The MTA holds a total of $33 billion in debt, which is more than twice the MTA's annual budget. Debt payments cost the MTA $2.1 billion last year and are set to increase to $2.6 billion by 2014. The governor and state legislature are directly responsible for the MTA's finances: they decide how much revenue flows to the authority, and only they have the power to put the MTA on sound financial footing.
Hawkins added that:
· Dedicated transit funds should be spent for the sole purpose for which they were enacted. The Governor should sign legislation to this effect.
· Funding for local transit systems throughout the state should be increased to reduce carbon greenhouse emissions and to assist low and moderate income individuals in accessing jobs and services.
· Fully fund the $29 billion 2015-2019 MTA capital program, which helps maintain the good repair of the system by underwriting the purchase of rolling stock, modernizing stations, rail yards and depots, and maintaining other vital infrastructure.
· End the fiscally irresponsible reliance on debt by restoring the state's contribution to the MTA capital program to 20 percent of the program's cost. Since 1992, the state has not contributed any funds directly toward the MTA's capital program. Before that time, state contributions made up a significant percentage of the MTA's capital program. In 1992, state lawmakers slashed state funding for the MTA's capital program. Today's debt crisis can be attributed in large part to this unfortunate decision and the failure of subsequent administrations to restore funding.
· Create sustainable sources of transit revenue funded by everyone who benefits from transit, including riders, drivers and businesses. Congestion pricing, bridge tolls and other variable charging plans that would provide critical revenue for the MTA (and avert future service cuts and unreasonable fare hikes) would benefit New York City's working and middle classes, the majority of whom rely on mass transit to commute to their jobs.