The chorus calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to stop shortchanging transit riders is growing louder. Sixty-five state legislators are asking Cuomo to rescind his $65 million cut and keep his word by providing the full amount he’s promised the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“We have a month until we have to pass the budget,” said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx), who chairs the committee that oversees the MTA. “We have a lot of work to do, and our conference is going to stand strongly behind the restoration in our budget resolution.”
The push against Cuomo’s MTA cut includes not just Democrats in the Assembly and Senate, but also Republican Senator Marty Golden of Brooklyn and Staten Island Senator Diane Savino, a key member of the Independent Democratic Conference, which supports the Republicans who control the chamber.
While MTA funding can sound complex, this issue is actually pretty simple: in 2011, Cuomo helped cut a downstate payroll tax, reducing the MTA’s revenue by about $309 million. The governor promised that the state would make up the difference, and for the past six years, he’s mostly kept his word, sending $309 million, give or take, from the state to the MTA each year.
Here’s the rub: the region has added new jobs since 2011, increasing the MTA’s payroll tax revenue to nearly $1.4 billion last year. Meanwhile, Cuomo’s patch job has held firm at about $309 million. “If they had kept the tax in place, that revenue would have gone up over time,” said Riders Alliance executive director John Raskin.
Now, Cuomo wants to reduce the amount he’s paying: beginning this year, the governor’s budget drops the state’s annual contribution by 21 percent to $244 million — a $65 million cut.
“Governor Cuomo promised us this money,” said Riders Alliance member and St. Albans resident Natasha Saunders. “Elected officials, if they’re going to make these promises, they owe it to the people to keep these promises.”
The governor’s office insists it’s not a cut, because overall tax revenues are up for the MTA.
“Enough with the grandstanding and misleading theatrics,” said Cuomo spokesperson Jon Weinstein. “State aid to the MTA last year was $4.456 billion, and this year it’s $4.486 billion. It’s an indisputable fact that the state is providing $30 million more in operating funds to the MTA this year — we’re happy to help anyone do the math.”
This line defending the governor’s budget has been echoed in the past week by Fernando Ferrer, the MTA’s interim board chair, the MTA’s interim executive director, who is appointed by Cuomo; MTA finance committee chair Larry Schwartz, who used to be one of Cuomo’s top aides; and MTA spokesperson Beth DeFalco, who worked in the governor’s press office before moving to the MTA.
“Just to be clear, folks who are speaking on behalf of the MTA, they report to the governor, they work for the governor, and they’re not going to take a stance that is different from that of the governor,” Raskin said. “And that’s why I think it’s so important to have independent advocates.”
“The governor is taking credit for other revenue like the gas tax, and real estate taxes, that go up some years and go down some years” and are outside his control, Raskin said. At the same time, he’s cutting the payroll tax replacement, a funding source he does control.
“We’re asking the state to continue doing what it had been doing,” Raskin said. “The governor should not take away money.”