Lawmakers slam Cuomo budget’s transit ‘sweep’

A group of state lawmakers from New York City is pressing for a budget that keeps Gov. Andrew Cuomo from moving $40 million out of a fund dedicated to MTA operations.

The lawmakers joined the Riders Alliance transit advocacy group Sunday to present a letter signed by 30 state Assembly members criticizing this $40 million “sweep” and asking that the money be restored when the legislature passes its budget. Cuomo’s executive budget takes “surplus” money from a pot of dedicated revenue called the Metropolitan Mass Transit Operating Assistance fund to pay down interest from MTA-related debt, which the state had covered.

“The dedicated taxes should go to help mass transit and further the purpose of mobility by subway and bus and rail,” said Assemb. Jim Brennan, a Brooklyn Democrat.

Brennan and his colleagues, Assembly members Michael DenDekker and Nily Rozic of Queens and Richard Gottfried of Manhattan, said riders are still smarting from bus service cutbacks in 2010 and fare hikes.

“The only way to keep service quality up and fares down is with dedicated funding,” Rozic said.

The state Division of Budget argued that the money taken from MMTOA is still being used for transit by paying down debt and that the budget increases MTA aid by 2%, or $85 million at a time when spending is flat elsewhere. Last year, the state increased transit funding 10%. But Cuomo last year grabbed $20 million from MMTOA and, going foward in 2016, will take $20 million a year for debt payments, according to Cuomo’s financial plan.

“The Executive Budget supports transit by using $40 million to pay down some of the debt accrued for MTA projects while also increasing operating aid to the MTA by another $85 million to over $4.3 billion,” the state Division of Budget said.

The lawmakers at the rally rejected that argument because the state had previously covered MTA-related debt payments and that using dedicated transit money to cover it can free up money that can be used for other priorities.

“However you slice it,” Gottfried said, “it’s a $40 million cut to the transit system and that’s wrong.”