[UPDATED] NY Legislature Passes Transit Lock Box Bill

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Weather-worn logo on the side of a subway train. (Photo by: Jim O'Grady)

We'll have an updated version of this post coming soon.

Updates at the bottom for now.


Right now, the collective gaze of the New York transit world is on Albany, where an extended session of the state legislature is frantically winding down. Transit watchers are waiting to learn the fate of a piece of legislation known as the "transit funding lockbox," which advocates say would bring stability to government funding streams that keep the buses, trains and subways running in and around New York City.

The bill passed the state Senate last night and is now in the hands of the state Assembly's Ways and Means Committee. Here's an official description of it, followed by an English translation:

"Prohibits diversion of resources from dedicated funds derived from taxes and fees that support the MTA, the NYC transit authority and their subsidiaries in certain instances."

That's addressed to past, present and future governors of New York. What it's saying, roughly, is no more raiding the NY MTA's budget to plug up state shortfalls.

The authority gets a crucial part of its revenues from a percentage of business and real estate taxes. Since 2009, as the recession reduced that income, the state took away an additional $260 million from those dedicated funds. The lockbox bill is designed to prevent that. Advocates say protecting NY MTA coffers will reduce the likelihood of a repeat of last year's painful fare increases and service cuts.

No wonder Transportation Nation's inbox is filled with emails from interested parties asking questions like: "Lockbox is key today...Anything from Cuomo?" Of course, that's New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who will have the final say on whether the bill becomes law.

And now arrives this bristling email from a worried transit advocate, which we have permission to quote anonymously:

"We’re hearing that Cuomo is blocking the lockbox bill so that he can retain the ability to steal transit funds. (This is the same Cuomo who ran for governor last year on restoring honesty and ethics to government.)"

We've placed a call to the governor's office asking for his view on the bill. Check back for updates.

UPDATE 1. Now this from an advocate with a well-placed source on the legislative side: "Lockbox: sources say it should pass the Assembly tonight!" Still no word from the governor.

UPDATE 2. Michael Whyland, press secretary to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, just called to say he expects the lockbox bill will be voted on tonight and that it will have "broad support." It already has 39 sponsors.

Then he added a ginormous caveat: If "suburban Republicans" use the introduction of the bill as an occasion to launch a debate about a payroll tax that is paid by their constituents in support of the NY MTA, that could be enough to "lay aside" the bill--that is, kill it. Whyland explained that with so much other major legislation awaiting votes on what is expected to be the last day of the session, the lockbox bill could be sacrificed to clear the decks for other priorities, like the gay marriage bill.

Whyland's bottom line: if the introduction of the lockbox bill doesn't spark a gridlock-inducing debate about the NY MTA payroll tax, it'll probably pass. Then comes Cuomo.

UPDATE 3. Whyland just called to say the bill has passed in the Assembly--statement from Speaker Sheldon Silver soon to come. We've asked Governor Cuomo, again, if he'll sign it. No answer yet.