THE COMMUTE: That is the indication New York City residents received from the events unfolding in Albany this past week. Briefly summarized:
- Governor Cuomo stripped the Lockbox Act (sitting on his desk for months after being passed by the Assembly and Senate) of most of its power. The original bill prevented removal of state funding for transit without legislative approval and required a detailed statement showing the impacts the diversion would have. The new bill allows the removal of transit funds if a fiscal crisis is declared, totally defeating the purpose of the original legislation.
- The governor also partially repealed the Payroll Mobility Tax, costing the MTA $320 million per year, which he promised to replace from the state’s General Fund.
- Cuomo has not signed a bill due to expire by the end of the year, which would allow livery cabs to legally pick up street hails outside of Midtown Manhattan and the airports by requiring them to obtain three-year licenses costing $1,500 each. It would also allow the sale of about 2,000 yellow medallions, adding about $1 billion dollars in revenue to the city’s budget and provide for wheelchair accessible taxis.
The Lockbox Act, originally introduced by State Senator Marty Golden, would have prevented a repeat of the last two years where dedicated transit funding was shifted from the MTA to the state’s General Fund, prompting massive service cutbacks last year.
The partial repeal of the Payroll Mobility Tax cut the payroll tax for small businesses and exempted elementary and secondary schools, both public and private. Hailed as a victory by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz to make our tax code fairer, the New York Times did not take such a favorable view of the legislation due to only vague promises by the governor that the MTA will not lose out.
If Cuomo does not keep his promise to replace the $320 million we will be losing from the reduction in the payroll tax, the consequences could be dire as outlined by Streetsblog.com.
In other MTA news — despite MTA Board Member Allan Cappelli’s attempts to restore some of last year’s bus and subway cuts next year, it won’t be happening. As Pete Donohue reports in The Daily News:
“The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s financial outlook has worsened since just last month, when two board members proposed setting aside money to bring back some of the axed service — which included 36 bus routes.
“The state Division of Budget has told the MTA to expect an $87 million drop in projected subsidies from the Metropolitan Mass Transportation Operating Assistance account next year because certain tax revenues are coming in lower than anticipated.
“Cappelli said the state could help the MTA by dropping a fee the authority has to pay when it sells bonds.
“He called the fee an unfair tax because the MTA has to borrow since the state doesn’t fully fund its five-year construction and maintenance plan. The fee cost the MTA about $31 million last year, according to the state controller’s office.”
So it looks like more service cuts may be ahead, unless the MTA can find other efficiencies to make up for the $87 million shortfall or if the state increases its aid.
The New York Times also takes a dim view on the governor’s opposition to signing the Livery Cab Bill, which he is opposing on the grounds that he believes that no one would purchase the accessibility permits because taxis that could accommodate wheelchairs would be more expensive to purchase. Taxi fleet owners and medallion holders are primarily opposed to the bill. Could they be influencing the governor’s decision? Earlier this month, State Senator Golden also reversed his support of the bill. The bill will either undergo changes to add more protections for fleet owners or will be vetoed by the governor.
After much criticism of the New York State Legislature for robbing the MTA of needed funds for the past two years, the NYS Senate and Assembly finally do the right thing and pass the Lockbox Act, designed to protect MTA funding. They also passed legislation designed to remedy the longstanding problem of yellow medallion cabs not serving the outer boroughs by legally allowing livery cabs to fill the void. Rather than signing these two very important pieces of legislation, which would greatly help public transit, Cuomo fundamentally destroys one bill and we are waiting to see what he will do with the other.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).