Photo Courtesy of MTA New York City Transit/Leonard Wiggins
The new law prohibits funds raised to support public transportation systems from being diverted towards another purpose unless a statute is enacted to authorize such a diversion.
By Michael V. Cusenza
Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday signed the Transit Lockbox Bill into law, effectively prohibiting funds raised to support public transportation systems from being diverted towards another purpose unless a statute is enacted to authorize such a diversion.
“The enactment of this law essentially ends the State’s abusive and arbitrary practice of siphoning MTA-dedicated revenues for alternate purposes, and informs weary straphangers of the impact any future diversion of such funds will have on the system’s ability to function. I’ve proudly lent my voice to the call for its passage over the last three years, and congratulate Assemblyman [Jeffrey] Dinowitz and [former State Sen. Martin] Golden on achieving this victory on behalf of our commuters,” said City Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans). “Going forward, we should consider the long-neglected needs of residents that live in transit deserts, like my Southeast Queens constituents; many of whom are deeply skeptical of congestion pricing absent receiving any immediate benefits from initiatives like Commuter Rail Equity as well as others that my community has outlined for years now.”
Unanimously approved last year by the State Senate and Assembly, the measure promotes fiscal transparency and public accountability; additionally, the transit lockbox bill requires the State budget director to issue a “diversion impact statement” detailing how the diversion of funds would impact riders in the form of changes to transit service, safety, and maintenance.
Cuomo’s signature on Friday comes at a critical juncture for public transportation in the Big Apple. Last year, MTA New York City Transit Authority President Andy Byford touted his Fast Forward Plan to turn around the ailing subway and bus systems.
Fast Forward is estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars. In that context, the approval of the transit lockbox legislation serves as a reminder that only the State can create, sustain, and protect the long-term sources of revenue that will be required to make a Byford’s transit rescue plan a reality.
A coalition of labor, business, transit, environmental, civil rights, social justice and government accountability groups rallied near Grand Central Terminal in September urging Cuomo to sign the Lockbox bill into law. At the event, leaders noted that New York “has a history of raiding dedicated transit funds and shady budget maneuvers involving the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.” In 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015, the State diverted a total of $391.5 million from MTA funds to the State’s general fund. In 2017, the State reduced its promised reimbursement to the MTA, made in exchange for a prior cut in a dedicated MTA tax, by $65 million.