As Tri-State surmised in an initial review of Governor Cuomo’s 2013-2014 Executive Budget last month, the Governor is proposing to use an old Albany budget “balancing” trick: diverting funds dedicated to the MTA for other uses.
This $20 million diversion of funds comes from a pot of money that is statutorily dedicated to cover the operating needs of the MTA. The Executive Budget, however, declared that this $20 million diversion is “surplus,” but there is no explanation of how funds are determined to be surplus. Because of increases in revenues from taxes dedicated to the MTA, the MTA did receive a 7.4 percent increase in the executive budget over last year’s budget. But given the volatility of the economy over the last few years, these days it is hard to say that anything is “surplus.”
This concern was highlighted during an exchange between Assemblymember James Brennan and MTA interim executive director Thomas Prendergast at the joint legislative budget hearings on transportation held last week:
Brennan: “Have you received any explanation for why there is a sweep of $20 million for non-MTA purposes?”
Prendergast: “I don’t […] I’d have to get an answer for you, I don’t know.”
The question would have been answered if Governor Cuomo had signed the “lockbox” legislation sponsored by Assemblymember Brennan and Senator Martin Golden and unanimously passed in both the Senate and Assembly in 2011. If enacted, the State Division of Budget would have had to explain how this diversion would impact the agency. However, without that law in place, as Straphangers’ Gene Russianoff once stated, “it’s a game of Clue uncovering this stuff.”
The concern here is more about precedent than actual dollar amount. Compared to the $260 million in sweeps that occurred in 2009 and 2010, sweeps that directly led to the worst fare hikes and service cuts in a generation, $20 million does not seem too dramatic.
But with transit fares set to go up in a month, riders have the right to ask how this loss of future operating funds will impact them, and where their will money go.