How Has Cuomo Short-Changed Transit? Let Us Count The Ways

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Drivers are no doubt toasting Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal to lower tolls on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from $6 to $5.50 per round trip for E-Z Pass users. But it's also the latest move by Cuomo to take money from mass transit.

First, the MTA would lose $7 million dollars a year—half of the expected revenue loss from the cut. Or, as this press release from Cuomo's office put it, "The toll relief will be funded by a $7 million allocation in the state budget and $7 million from the MTA."

But Governor Cuomo opposes a plan by traffic guru Sam Schwartz to lower tolls on several other bridges in exchange for tolls on the East River bridges, which are currently free. Advocates say the plan would bring fairness to drivers and hundreds of millions of dollars to the MTA.

Veronica Vanterpool, the head of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, says Staten Island's 471,000 residents would be better off with fewer reasons to get behind the wheel. "Faced with limited transit options, many Staten Islanders have to drive, which contributes to traffic congestion, deteriorated roadways, and unsafe street conditions that led to 21 pedestrian fatalities between 2010 and 2012," Vanterpool said in a statement criticizing the toll reduction.

Also, Cuomo vetoed a bill in November that would've required an impact statement each time funds are diverted from the MTA to the state's general fund. The MTA has lost $260 million that way since 2009.

Finally, Cuomo reduced a payroll tax in 2011 that's been costing the MTA up to $300 million dollars per year. Albany has been making up the shortfall to the authority. But advocates complain that the move changed a dedicated revenue source for the MTA into a yearly act of largesse by the governor. And that, they say, brings less certainty to the finances of the authority—and more dependency on a governor who has not shown himself overly eager to fund mass transit.