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Transportation Nation

How Infrastructure Politics Turned Partisan: Looking Back on Four Years

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Champlain Bridge in Vermont, Demolished in 2009, Over Safety Concerns (Photo: Collin Campbell)

Not too long ago, an ad for Audi cars sought to relate to the average driver with grimly shot footage of rutted roads, rotting bridges, and frayed guardrails. “Across the nation, over 100,000 miles of roads and bridges are in disrepair,” a female announcer intones.

That this rhetoric could turn up in an ad is a metaphor of the current acceptance of America’s rather sorry infrastructure. In its latest report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American infrastructure a "D.”

In 2008, Republicans and Democrats pretty much agreed that investing in infrastructure is a national priority. Here's an excerpt from the 2008 GOP platform:

We support a level of investment in the nation's transportation system that will promote a healthy economy, sustain jobs, and keep America globally competitive. We need to improve the system's performance and capacity to deal with congestion, move a massive amount of freight, reduce traffic fatalities, and ensure mobility across both rural and urban areas.

We urgently need to preserve the highway, transit, and air facilities built over the last century so they can serve generations to come. At the same time, we are committed to minimizing transportation's impact on climate change, our local environments, and the nation's energy use. Careful reforms of environmental reviews and the permitting process should speed projects to completion.

It's hard to remember that that was just four years ago -- when Senator Barack Obama was running against Senator John McCain.

In 2012, supporting infrastructure couldn't be more partisan.

In one of the most-quoted pieces of video />

made this campaign, President Barack Obama argues that success relies on collective action, including big infrastructure projects. Obama: "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help...  Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

But to Republicans, that sounded like an argument against individual ingenuity. "We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones," former Governor Mitt Romney said in his acceptance speech, describing all the reasons our parents and grandparents came to this county, including "freedom to build a life. And yes, freedom to build a business with their own hands."

It was huge applause line. The theme even became a country  song Lane Turner performed at the convention, with the refrain, "I built it, with no help from Uncle Sam."

That Uncle Sam has a big role in building infrastructure has been a pretty consistent theme for President Obama. His $800 stimulus bill had big sums for highways, transit, and high speed rail. He's proposed big transportation budgets every year.

But republicans see it differently. Arguing the country can't afford more debt, Republican Governors sent stimulus money back to the federal government.   In Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida, they stopped high speed rail projects in their tracks.  But they weren't  the first republicans to send big bucks back to D.C.

But before Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Scott of Florida had even won office, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie started a modern trend: sending billions back to the federal government for a local transit project rather than risk incurring extra debt for New Jersey taxpayers. In October, 2010, Christie pulled the plug on an already-started transit tunnel under the Hudson River -- the so-called ARC tunnel. " In the end the taxpayers of New Jersey would be on the hook for every nickel of the cost overruns," Christie said, explaining the decision.

"When you become governor, and you start to become presented with the information I was presented with you're presented with now a choice of a project that I do think is a worthwhile project but that we simply can't afford," Christie added.

Christie's Democratic counterpart in New York, Andrew Cuomo, took a different approach. Without the financing in hand, Cuomo greenlighted his own massive infrastructure project -- a new $5 billion Tappan Zee bridge.

"As a society, as a government, as a state, we have to be able to get to yes," Cuomo told reporters after he'd applied for the funds. "We have to be able to build a bridge that needs to be replaced.  If we want this state to be what we want this state to be you have to be able to tackle a project like this."

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The Empire

Cuomo on Minimum Wage Bill: 'I Wouldn't Bet on It'

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Governor Andrew Cuomo doesn’t have much hope lawmakers will approve a bill to raise the minimum wage before the end of the current legislative session on June 21.

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Transportation Nation

NY to Offer $2000 Award to Witnesses of Assaults on Transit Workers

Monday, May 21, 2012

New York will begin offering up to $2000 to witnesses of assaults on NY MTA employees.

Some 48 employees have been assaulted on the job this year, compared to 40 in the same period last year.

Assaults on transit workers have become a key issue for the Transport Workers Union, still negotiating a new contract with the MTA. The old contract expired January 15th.   World of the new program, called "Transit Watch," came via press release from New York's Governor, Andrew Cuomo.

This is the second move in less than a month to combat assaults on transit workers.  The first was a ban on drinking on certain Long Island Railroad trains.

"This is a big win for transit workers, who face physical assaults, verbal abuse and threats every day on the job, and who have long felt that transit assaults are given a low priority," said TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen in the press release.

According to the release, "Transit Watch is funded by the MTA. Witnesses with information about assaults on MTA New York City Transit personnel can call the NYPD’s Crimestoppers program at 800-577-TIPS (800-577-8477), which assigns callers an anonymous ID number so they do not have to give their names. Rewards of up to $2,000 are paid for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the perpetrator."

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Transportation Nation

Former NY Governor David Paterson Joins MTA Board

Monday, April 23, 2012

Former Governor David Paterson with Governor Andrew Cuomo (right) (Photo: Governor Cuomo's flickr stream)

New York's former Governor, David Paterson, has been nominated by his successor, Andrew Cuomo, to serve on the board of New York's MTA.

As Governor, Paterson presided over some of the deepest cuts the MTA had to sustain in generations -- but he also vociferously stumped for East River bridge tolls to fund transit. Those tolls foundered when they arrived at the state legislature, and a patched-up plan left MTA finances in a continually precarious position.

Paterson also appointed Jay Walder, a respected transportation professional, to run the MTA.

"I applaud Governor Andrew Cuomo's nomination of former Governor David Paterson to the Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority," said Joseph Lhota, the current head of the MTA, in a statement. "I have known the former Governor for 35 years and look forward to the opportunity to work with him again. He has long shared the Governor's commitment to our mission of providing safe, efficient and effective transportation to more than 8.5 million riders every day.

"Once confirmed by the Senate, former Governor Paterson will bring a unique and practical perspective, particularly with respect to issues affecting minority communities and disabled New Yorkers. I look forward to former Governor Paterson bringing to our board deliberations the charm, wit and compassion he has shown throughout his public life.”

Transit activists were also pleased with the appointment. “With another planned fare hike looming in January 2013, Paterson’s experience as a governor and state senator will prove critical to working with Albany lawmakers to find new funding for our transit system, sparing overburdened New Yorkers yet another fare hike,” said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, in a statement.

Paterson, the former Lt. Governor. was elevated to Governor when his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, resigned after it emerged he had consorted with prostitutes.

Paterson, who is legally blind, had previously been a State Senator from Harlem. As Governor, Paterson became embroiled in his own scandals, involving an accusation of domestic violence against one of his top aides, and a possible cover-up. Paterson chose not to run for re-election, and now hosts his own radio show.

Paterson will replace Nancy Shevell, a GOP fundraiser and trucking executive, who resigned after marrying former Beatle Paul McCarthy.

 

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Transportation Nation

Stringer Puts Transit on the Mayoral Map, But Backs off Support of Congestion Charging

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

LIRR commuters (photo by @MSG via flickr)

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer -- a likely 2013 New York mayoral candidate -- put transit squarely in the middle of the 2013 debate Tuesday by proposing a reinstatement of the commuter tax and an infrastructure bank to fund long term capital projects, including more rapid buses in the outer boroughs and a subway from Brooklyn to the Bronx.

"I believe we need to get back to an era in which public transportation is acknowledged as an essential civil responsibility," Stringer said in a speech to the Association for a Better New York.  "Right alongside public safety and education."

Stringer wants to re-jigger the way capital construction is financed, setting up an infrastructure bank seeded by the NY Mortgage recording tax, which now funds transit operations.

But to do that, he needs a replacement source of funds for transit operations, and he's looking to the restored commuter tax to supply more than $700 million a year to do that.

Still,  the fate of the commuter tax, which would be borne exclusively by suburbanites, is cloudy at best, and it's already being blasted by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who's calling it "penny-wise and pound-foolish."

And in supporting the commuter tax, Stringer is backing away from his previous support of congestion charging. The commuter tax would only affect suburbanites, who won't vote for the next mayor, while a congestion charge would hit some city residents.

The commuter tax -- a 0.45 percent surcharge on income -- died in 1999 when Democratic Assembly member Sheldon Silver brokered a deal to eliminate the tax in order to help a Democrat win a special Senate election in Orange County. The Democrat lost. The tax was detested by suburbanites.

But Stringer says he thinks he can get it passed. "Every Mayor, when they get elected, gets one big ticket from Albany," Stringer said in a question-and-answer session after Tuesday's speech. " Mayor Bloomberg got mayoral control of the school system. Other mayors came up and asked for something from Albany that can change the discourse in this city. I believe the next mayor can go to Albany, rearrange the commuter tax, build a partnership with suburban elected officials, and finally finally finally get this transit system on sound footing because this is not just a New York City issue, it’s a regional issue. And if we flounder, we could take our economy with us, and that’s the argument we have to make."

In 2008, a congestion charging plan backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg passed the New York City Council, but died in the legislature, where it found little support.

Congestion charging is “our last best chance to reduce the number of cars and trucks on our streets, lessen the business costs associated with congestion, reduce asthma rates, build new mass transit, and prepare New York City for another million residents," Stringer testified in 2008.

But Stringer stopped short of endorsing the latest congestion charging plan -- Sam Schwartz's  "Fair Plan" -- which would charge drivers entering Manhattan while  lowering some other tolls around the city. Stringer said that was an idea that deserves "discussion." His prepared remarks said "serious consideration."

When questioned after the speech, Stringer said "I am supporting my plan...I’m not endorsing the Sam Schwartz plan. I’m not endorsing those ideas today, but I wanted to say to people, elected officials, potential candidates, why don’t we dig in and have a real discussion and not be afraid to talk about new ideas?"

Stringer's press people were also quite clear that Stringer does not favor congestion charging -- although he doesn't not support it either.

The MTA stopped short of supporting Stringer's call for a commuter tax, but spokesman Adam Lisberg said "we're glad that he’s started this conversation about how to get more funding for the MTA, because the MTA needs money."

Neither the congestion charge nor the commuter tax have much support in Albany. Governor Andrew Cuomo, when asked about the congestion charge while campaigning for Governor, called it " moot." He's shown a distinct distaste for taxes -- especially dedicated transit taxes -- this year eliminating a dedicated tax surcharge for the MTA paid by suburbanites.

In supporting a commuter tax over the congestion charge, Stringer is hewing a politically less treacherous route -- he's not pushing for a tax or a toll that some outer borough residents detest. No constituents of Stringers, should he be elected mayor, would be affected by the commuter tax.

Of the other 2013 candidates for Mayor, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn helped steer the congestion charge through the city council -- where Public Advocate Bill Di Blasio, then a council member, voted against it. City Comptroller Bill Thompson, a 2009 mayoral candidate, opposed congestion charging, but supported more expensive registration fees for heavier cars.

Former Congressman Anthony Weiner, before he withdrew from the 2009 Mayor's race, supported congestion charging -- but only for people who didn't live in New York.

In 2005, no Democratic candidates for mayor supported congestion charging.  I know, because I asked them about it during the primary debate.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

New York Governor Cuomo Touting Infra Bank in Election Email

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Governor Andrew Cuomo briefs the cabinet on the 2012-13 budget (March 27, 2012, Governor's flickr stream)

The Andrew Cuomo 2014 Committee is proud of the Governor's infrastructure bank, so proud it wasted no time sending out an email touting the so-called "New York Works" program as "the cornerstone of this budget."

The New York Works program was finalized as part of Tuesday''s budget deal. It would use $232 million in capital funds and $917 million in new federal funds for a total of $1.2 billion in new spending. That funding would, in turn, leverage private resources to inject $15 billion into infrastructure spending.

The fund would also pool planning resources across 45 state agencies. Among the agencies and authorities the Governor calls out in a brief on the plan are the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the MTA, and the Department of Transportation.

"Yesterday was an exciting day for New York," begins the email, which landed in mailboxes Wednesday afternoon.

In the past year, infrastructure spending has gone out of of favor, particularly among Republicans. Governors Chris Christie in New Jersey, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and Rick Scott in Florida all killed big rail projects, and Republicans in Congress have balked at passing a surface transportation bill, which runs out at the end of this month.

So it's notable that Governor Cuomo sees infrastructure spending as part of his ticket to electoral success. His email describes New York Works "as a new and smarter strategy for putting New Yorkers back to work by rebuilding our aging infrastructure and helping put our state's economy back on track."

The Governor will also name nine of 15 members of a task force to decide on projects -- the legislature will name the remaining six. The governor is promising to post the projects on line so "New Yorkers can track the projects in their community" in real time. The list will be posted "over the next several days."

Infrastructure banks already operate in several states; President Barack Obama has tried and failed to get one through Congress.

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Transportation Nation

New York Wants $2 Billion From Feds for Tappan Zee Bridge

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Here's the loan application. We'll have more soon.

 

TIFIA LOI - Tappan Zee Bridge

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Transportation Nation

Two More Ex-Governors Say Port Authority Has Long History of Problems

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An iron worker atop One World Trade Center (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Two more Governors are speaking out against last week's audit of the Port Authority.

Former Governor Elliot Spitzer was Governor from June 2007 until March 2008. He says the latest Port Authority audit by Navigant Consulting was unfair to his successor Governor David Paterson and Paterson's pick to lead the Port Authority, Executive Director Chris Ward.

That audit sharply criticized the Port Authority, and, by implication, Ward, who led the bi-state agency until this fall. But Spitzer says Ward himself cut through a thick knot of problems.

"Chris cut through a great deal of it with deadlines that were imposed upon him, some legitimately, some for political purposes -- and got things moving The effort now to revisit and repaint that picture is unfair to Chris and inaccurate," Spitzer said in a telephone interview.

Spitzer's remarks back of those of his successor, David Paterson, who said in an interview that cost overruns at the Port Authority were in part driven by demands by New Jersey that every expenditure on the World Trade Center be matched by a similar layout across the Hudson.

Spitzer said Ward got the stalled project moving. He says Ward deserves credit for the on time completion of the Memorial that was the focal point for the global commemoration of the tenth anniversary.

Spitzer also said the Port Authority has become a fundamentally political organization.

"Inevitably over time organizations like that become dominated by politics, not substance. The Port has not escaped that," says Spitzer. "Overlay on top of that the reality of two states balancing and juggling competing political needs and you have clear opportunities for waste and outright corruption."

 

Former Democratic New Jersey Governor Dick Codey, who is now a state senator, is also backing his former cohorts accounts that the Port Authority has long been beset with problems.

Codey said during his tenure from 2004 until the beginning of 2006 he was frustrated by the lack of progress at Ground Zero. He said from his first-hand experience overseeing the agency it's bi-state nature slowed progress and drove up costs.

" I mean obviously it took way too long to get that done and that is the problem when you have a bi-state agency; one wants to do it their way, the other wants it their own way.

"The thing I was frustrated at was the lack of progress dealing with the World Trade Center site," Codey said in an interview. " You got to compromise and sometimes that compromise takes a very long time, and the money you thought it would take to rebuild just escalates."

Codey says the governors of both states, including himself, were too quick to let the Port Authority carry the huge cost of rebuilding the site. "I think if there is any criticism to be laid at any Governor is that we were not vigilant in going after Federal money because is really a monument to our country as opposed to New Jersey or New York. It was not new Jersey or new York that were hit that day. It was America, clearly."

Both Codey and Spitzer say that any meaningful reform of the Port Authority has to include ending what has become the standard practice of the Governors from both states appointing campaign contributors to the powerful Port Authority Board of Commissioners. They oversee the agency that generates more than $4 billion dollars in revenue annually and employs almost 7,000 people.

"Part of the problem is that we want people that are non-partisan and who are professionals and clearly we have gotten away from that," says Codey. " There is no question about it. People that are on these authorities are big donors. Whether that be on my Democratic side or on the Republican side. So I think both parties need to take a hit on this. "

Both former Governors say the Port Authority, originally established to facilitate the development of the region's Port and transportation infrastructure, has to get back to its core mission. Forays into so called "economic development projects" are examples of a diversion from that mission.

"Well you would think that Port Authority is running the bridges and tunnels and that would be it," says Codey."These economic things that came about maybe 15 years or so, why? I don't understand. You are supposed to be doing the infrastructure that binds us together. And yet we have gone away from that. Economic development is really the federal government and the state's role."

After signing off on controversial toll and fare hikes Governors Christie and Cuomo called for a first of its kind internal audit of the bi-state agency that was first created in 1921. The audit found that the agency had more than doubled its debt from $9 billion to $21 billion in just ten years while boosting the compensation for its own workforce by 19 percent over the last five.

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Transportation Nation

Former Governor David Paterson: Port Authority Problems No Secret

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Construction at the WTC site (photo: Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

(New York, NY -- Bob Hennelly, WNYC) Last week’s audit calling the Port Authority dysfunctional and running up billions of dollars in cost over-runs made eye-catching headlines.

The audit called the bi-state authority a "dysfunctional organization suffering from a lack of consistent leadership." That void, the report concluded, manifested itself in "insufficient cost controls" and "a lack of transparent and effective oversight" when it came to managing the World Trade Center's site's re-development.

But to long-time observers of the Port Authority and many of those involved, it was more like a Captain Reynault moment in Casablanca.

They were hardly shocked to find gambling in this establishment.

Instead, the latest 50-page report from Navigant is just one more critical audit and fact-finding volume in a library generated over decades by state comptrollers by former and current state lawmakers.

This particular audit was commissioned by Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, who found themselves in political hot water after backing a toll-hike to pay for rising costs at the bi-state authority. Both men had been elected on platforms that pledged to make government, even independent authorities like the Port Authority, more accountable.

But former Governor David Paterson says the audits findings were hardly a secret to those close to the World Trade Center project.

“The truth has to be told about this," Paterson says. After September 11th there was tremendous political tumult in both states. Sex scandals toppled a Governor in each state. The instability at the top had repercussions.

"Five governors of New Jersey, four governors of New York, changes to the Chair of the Port Authority and the executive director," recalls Paterson. "Every stakeholder, every real estate person within 150 miles wanted to be involved. What started out as a demonstration of vigilance and response to the terrorists turned into a real estate boondoggle."

Paterson says then-Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward, in an attempt to get the 911 Memorial completed by the psychologically important tenth anniversary, did not sugarcoat the site's overall status.

"In the memorandum written to me by Chris Ward he says there are likely to be cost overruns and delays. And there were," says Paterson.

“While significant progress has been made, that memo said, the schedule and cost estimates of the rebuilding effort that have been communicated to the public are not realistic. In fact, as other reports by the FTA and LMCCC/LMDC have already suggested, the schedule and cost for each of the public projects on the site face significant delays and cost overruns,” the memo said.

"And the whole issue that there could be toll hikes -- all that was discussed before the project was even built," says Paterson. "When we started putting this together we knew that the costs that were assessed were way below what the actual price to build those structures would be."

There was something else driving up costs, the former Governor said. “Every dime that was spent to rebuild the World Trade Center was assessed in the Port Authority Board room as a New York contract for which the New Jersey members wanted equal value. I am not blaming them but it becomes a cesspool driving costs up."

Paterson says the Federal government should have shouldered the entire multibillion dollar burden of re-building the complex not the Port Authority.

"They did not attack the Port Authority on September 11th nor did they attack the states of New York and New Jersey. They attacked America."

Check back soon for Part 2 of this story...how the Port Authoiry, once a national model, found itself adrift in a sea of red ink.

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Transportation Nation

Port Authority Pushes Back on Scathing Audit, But Acknowledges Need for Reform

Thursday, February 09, 2012

(photo: Port Authority Chairman David Samson address the media (Janet Babin/WNYC)

UPDATED WITH MORE ON PA STATEMENTS ON WTC & TOLL HIKES (READ A BIT INTO THE POST) The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is defending the expanded costs for the World Trade Center project, but it also admits it needs to become leaner and more transparent.

The agency addressed the project’s costs at its first public Board meeting since an outside audit released earlier this week.  The interim report revealed that costs at the World Trade Center project had ballooned to $15-billion dollars, up from about $4-billion in 2008.

But Port Authority Chair David Samson said the figures did not reflect cost overruns at the World Trade Center.  “The numbers that provide an increase in the original cost estimate were not on cost overruns, and they were not over budget....there was a cost estimate increase,” said Samson.

The Board said that the project’s expanded costs were simply not included in the original cost estimates created in 2008.  “They were mostly costs associated with One World Trade Center and retail, like tenant improvement costs, financing costs, and leasing commissions,” said Vice Chairman Scott Rechler.  He said these were things that would normally be included in a project cost estimate.

The Board said any cost overruns at the World Trade Center site were due to expanded work on the transportation hub, and the accelerated speed of the project.  Some work was fast tracked in order to complete the 9/11 memorial in time for the ten year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

The audit, by Navigant Consulting, was commissioned by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and NJ Governor Chris Christie after the Board voted to increase bridge and tunnel tolls last August.  Board Chair  Samson said those toll increases are here to stay.  He also maintained the toll revenue is not linked in any way to the World Trade Center project.  “There was never a statement made that linked the toll increase to paying for the World Trade Center redevelopment,” said Samson.

(That's actually not accurate.  An August 5, 2011 press release announcing the proposed hike specifically cited "the overall cost of WTC rebuilding" as pressuring the authority's finances.  "Faced with three unprecedented challenges at once," the statement said – "(1) a historic economic recession that has sharply decreased revenue below projections, (2) steep increases in post-9/11 security costs, which have nearly tripled, and the overall cost of the WTC rebuilding, and (3) the need for the largest overhaul of facilities in the agency’s 90-year history – the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey today proposed a two-phase toll and fare increase to fully fund a new $33 billion ten-year capital plan, which will generate 167,000 jobs."

To be sure, after being sued by the AAA, the Port Authority has maintained that no funding from the toll increase actually goes directly to the World Trade Center, a position the Chair restated Thursday.  Samson said said he "disagreed" that the Port Authority had raised the specter of WTC reconstruction as driving the toll hike, saying that press release was instead painting "a general picture of the financial position of the Port Authority." )

The audit also described the agency as dysfunctional.

The Board blamed that on prior leaders.  Vice Chairman Rechler said that the last ten years at the Port Authority have been “destabilizing.”  The agency lost 83 employees during the 2001 terrorist attacks.  The Board went through seven different executive directors over the past ten years.  “We feel confident now that there’s new leadership,” said Vice Chairman Rechler.

The Board said it’s finding ways to move forward.  It pointed to a new joint venture with Westfield Group as a positive sign. “Our agreement with Westfield leverages public and private sector money that allows us to pursue our core mission: to stimulate job creation and economic activity for the New Jersey and New York region,” said Samson.

The Board said it will also focus on improving capital planning and financing for big projects.  It will also tackle employee compensation.  The audit found that the average Port Authority employee earns about $143-thousand dollars a year.  “We need to better align our compensation and benefits packages to appropriate public employee standards, “said Samson.

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Transportation Nation

NY Gov Cuomo: MTA Considering "Additional Transit Applications" For New Convention Center

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

NY Governor Cuomo

Governor Cuomo briefly addressed the issue of mass transit out to his new favorite project, a massive convention center by near JFK Airport in Queens to be built by the Malaysian firm Genting, which is already operating a racino there. Speaking Wednesday in Yonkers, he didn't say much--but let it drop that the MTA "is working on additional transit applications" to the site.

No word yet from the MTA on what that might be. Transit advocates have expressed concern about the cost of such a project for an essentially broke agency -- and about the inconvenience to regular riders if, say, an express service gets prioritized. In a brief statement earlier this month, Genting said it would pay for transit, but didn't offer details.

Here's the transcript:

Reporter: Are you concerned about the transit extension for the convention center? Is there going to be enough service and is that going to be a problem?

Cuomo: The convention center would be where Aqueduct Racetrack is now, it’s very close to JFK airport,  so it’s a place that is accessible and can be more accessible.

The reason I’m excited about it is it is a $4 billion private investment.  It costs the taxpayers of this state nothing. Government doesn’t build.  I don’t have to touch a shovel.

It would built by a private company, it’s financed by a private company, the state grants the company more racino rights. They would expand a racino, they would also build a convention center. We need the convention center.

It would be roughly three and a half times the size of the Javits Center currently and it would allow us to reuse the Javits center on the West Side because we wouldn’t now need the Javits as the convention center any longer. From my point of view it’s a win-win.

And at a time when government doesn’t have any money but wants to generate jobs, it’s a perfect solution.

Reporter: It’s not in any easy spot to get to by mass transit.

Cuomo: The MTA is working on additional transit applications.

Reporter: Are you optimistic they will reach a deal with the TW?

Cuomo: I’m leaving that up to the TWU and Joe Lhota.  I am optimistic Joe Lhota is the right man to handle the situation.

 

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Transportation Nation

NY Gov. Cuomo Budget: MTA Not Gutted, $$ For Amtrak, Infrastructure Fund

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

UPDATED Well, the numbers are out, and the Governor is proposing the New York MTA get $251 million to plug what its losing from the payroll tax the Governor cut last year.

However, while there are no cuts, the MTA's budget remains flat, even as ridership is increasing.  Which means, the authority still has a $35 million budget gap to close, as it announced in December.

(Full analysis of the budget here.)

The $251 million is somewhat less than the $310 million the MTA will lose as a result of the MTA payroll tax cut, although the state argued in a conference call with transit activists today that that's actually not less than the MTA needs, because the tax cut doesn't go into effect until April 1, three months after the MTA's budget did.

[Confusingly, in the text accompanying the budget numbers, the state says it will give $190 million more to the MTA than it did from the general fund last year, which "includes $250 million to the MTA."  Waiting for an explanation on that one to from the governor's office. If past is prologue, that may take some time to sort out.]

There's also $770 million for capital construction aid (as the MTA has outlined in its capital plan.)

Both Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers' campaign and Kate Slevin of Tri-State Transportation Commission seemed to feel they'd dodged a bullet in the FY 2013 budget.

Even Transportation Alternatives had generally kind, if wary, words:
“Today’s budget treats transit riders with respect and is a step in the right direction for New York,” said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. “We need the governor to treat public transit as a priority, not an afterthought. "

The governor is also proposing $1.16 billion to start off his "New York Works" infrastructure bank for "bridges, roads, and major infrastructure projects,"  with most of that money ($917 million) coming from the federal government.

The budget also includes $9.7 million to improve Amtrak rail service.

And: if you live in Broad Channel or the Rockaways, the state will reimburse you for your tolls, if  Governor Cuomo has his way.

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Transportation Nation

Transit Advocates: Where's the Money for a Direct Train to New Convention Center?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Renderings of new Queens convention center (Courtesy of Arquitectonica)

Transit advocates are expressing doubt over the capacity to run an express subway train from midtown Manhattan to a proposed new convention center in Queens.  Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a non-binding agreement last week to build the world's largest convention center at Aqueduct Racetrack, but details about how conventioneers would get to and from Manhattan are sketchy.

Even though Governor Cuomo just proposed the plan, he's already signed a non-binding agreement with a potential developer, Genting Americas. That's raising questions about just how the plan to develop the site would work, including transportation options.

(Read Ilya Marritz's terrific profile of Genting here. )

In a brief statement issued Thursday, Genting said it and the "state would work alongside the MTA to help fund and introduce uninterrupted subway service between Midtown Manhattan" and the convention site.

But the MTA is already struggling to provide service, and has a multi-billion dollar hole in its capital construction plan.

Governor Cuomo also recently cut the payroll mobility tax, which pays for MTA operations, though he said he will replace those funds.

One idea bandied about was that the MTA would run express trains along the A line. But that idea was tried once before — in the now-defunct "Plane to the Train."  That service was plagued by low ridership, and created hostility by setting up a service that whisked past waiting straphangers on the local platforms.

"If one of their ideas is to create a convention express modeled after the JFK airport express, that's going to be much harder to do than it was in the 1970's and '80's," the Straphangers' Campaign's Gene Russianoff said.

Russianoff noted that many neighborhoods along the A and C lines — including Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Bedford-Stuyvesant — have undergone rapid growth in recent years, and couldn't withstand reductions in service.

But Bob Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, which is backing the convention plan, thought adding express trains might be possible.

Yaro also said the air train to JFK could be extended to Aqueduct, or the LIRR Rockaway Beach line could be brought back to life. Both plans would cost considerably more.

A spokesman for the MTA, Jeremy Soffin,  issued a statement saying:

"Though we haven’t seen any proposals, we look forward to working with all involved to discuss ways to improve transit access to the site within fiscal and operating constraints.”

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Transportation Nation

New York Governor Cuomo Proposes $15 Billion Infrastructure Plan

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

UPDATED WITH TRANSCRIPT: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to build, build, build.   In his state of the state address Wednesday, he put forth a $15 billion plan to repair roads, bridges,  parks, flood control, and municipal water systems. (Transcript of his actual remarks below)

Cuomo did not specifically refer to transit projects, (in fact, the word "transit" wasn't uttered during the speech) though he did discuss capital construction by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which he controls.

Cuomo said all the investment would come under one umbrella "New York Works" fund.

"Right now, believe it or not, agencies and authorities do their own construction, their own development,  their own master plan – all  disconnected one from the other, without even any conversation."

In a speech that veered wildly from prepared remarks, Cuomo said:  "So the MTA has a capital plan that they are pursuing different that the Port Authority, which has a capital plan which it's pursuing , different from the Department of Transportation which has a capital plan which its pursuing , different from the Department Of Housing which has a capital plan that it’ pursuing.  It makes no sense.  It never did. This is not the time to be squandering resources. "

The idea of having one entity make funding decisions won praise from planners: "The state has really been substandard in capital construction," said the Citizens' Budget Commissions Elizabeth Lynam.  "It's a long time coming that they tried to orchestrate that."

"In the long run if you put together a board that looks to state infrastructure interests--  not just political interests -- that can be very strong," added City College of New York Professor Robert "Buz" Paaswell.  But Paaswell said setting up a fund would be very complex -- since authorities can legally borrow, while the state DOT cannot.

But transit advocates were dismayed by Cuomo's glancing over public transportation.

“While the Governor is right to call for greater investment in infrastructure, Albany cannot continue to give short shrift to funding transit across our state,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “Public transit projects create a jobs dividend that stretches from the five-boroughs to Upstate New York. From manufacturing jobs in the North Country to construction jobs in the metropolitan area, fully funding public transit not only helps get millions of people to work every day, it creates good-paying jobs for New Yorkers.”

Cuomo first introduced the idea of an infrastructure bank during his tax proposal, which passed last month.  In his state of the state he offered more details, but the governor has yet to release a full-blown plan.

"We want to find a  20 to 1 leverage in these projects so we maximize the impact of the state money," Cuomo said.

Among the fund's uses:  "We are planning to improve more than 100 bridges which will include finally building a new Tappan Zee bridge, because 15 years of planning and talking and commiserating is too long. It is time to build and to act and to perform."

"We are going to repair 2000 miles of roads," he added.  "That’s from Buffalo to New York City 5 times. We are going finance upgrades to 90 municipal water systems,  improve 48 parks and historic sites that are visited by 37 million people per year.  And after hurricane Irene and storm Lee repair 114 flood control projects across this state."

Cuomo also proposed a $2 billion "energy highway" from Quebec to New York City.

"We have a tremendous need for power in downstate New York.  Let's connect the supply dots to the need what Eisenhower did in the 50s by building an interstate system is what this energy highway can be to the next generation."

TRANSCRIPT OF CUOMO'S REMARKS FOLLOWS:

I’m proposing setting up the New York works fund and task force.  This task force will be made up of leading public and private3 sector experts and members of the legislature.  It will coordinate for the first time all the states capital construction,

 

Right now, believe it or not, agencies and authorities do their own construction, their own development,  their own master plan – all  disconnected one from the other, without even any conversation.

 

So the MTA has a capital plan that they are pursuing different that the Port Authority which has a capital plan which its pursuing , different from the Department of Transportation which has a capital plan which its pursuing , different from the Department Of Housing which has a capital plan that it’ pursuing.

 

It makes no sense it never did.   This is not the time to be squandering resources.  You can’t have that many agencies and authorities coming up with their own vision for the state -- we need a comprehensive vision and we need the expertise frankly to help us get it done. It’s not the state’s forte.

 

There are people in the private sector who are expert at this who want to be helpful. We want to invite them in, put together a task force, and actually lead this effort.

 

We want a comprehensive master plan of all of the state’s construction over the next few years and how we can coordinate and maximize that work that work to have a positive synergy among the projects.   We also want to accelerate the construction.

 

We cant do this on government time -- this has to happen on real time. It can’t take 3 years to put a shovel in the ground, it just can’t work that way any more.  And it’s not going to.

 

(applause)

 

As I said in the beginning the task for us is to find leverage with private sector partners. We want to find a  20 to 1 leverage in these projects so we maximize the impact of the state money.

 

We are planning to improve more than 100 bridges which will include finally building a new Tappan Zee bridge, because 15 years of planning and talking and commiserating is too long.  I is time to build and to act and to perform.

 

We are going to repair 2000 miles of roads.  That’s from Buffalo to New York City 5 times. We are going finance upgrades to 90 municipal water systems,  improve 48 parks and historic sites that are visited by 37 million people per year.  And after hurricane Irene and storm Lee repair 114 flood control projects across this state.

 

Let’s build an energy highway system that doesn’t exist now…we have supply of power in northern New York, Quebec, we have power supply in western ny we have a tremendous need for power in downstate ny lets connect the supply dots to the need what Eisenhower did in the 50s by building an interstate system is what this energy highway can be to the next generation.

 

If we want the state to develop and we need the job and we need the businesses,  we’re going to need the power this is the way we’re going to do it.

 

The state can master plan a system, issue an ftp  allow private sector companies to come to in to bid it  build it we believe it can generate $2 billion in infrastructure. This is no doubt a comprehensive and ambitious jobs program, 15 billion in infrastructure,  4 billion for a convention center, 2 billion for Javits transformation, 2 billion for energy, 1 billion for gaming,  1 billion for buffalo that we believe will generate additional money for the private sector.  This program will make a major impact on the of this state’s economy if we get it done.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

In NY Governor Cuomo's Address, No Mention of the Word "Transit"

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

UPDATED In his second annual State of the State address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did not mention the word "transit," according to the prepared text of his speech.

Cuomo controls the MTA, the nation's largest transit system.

In the written speech, Cuomo did promise to rebuild "100 bridges and 2,000 miles of road" and vowed to move forward on his plan to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge between Westchester to Rockland Counties.  And he talks about the state's efforts to repair roads and bridges devastated by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee.

Cuomo also referred  to the MTA (or Metropolitan Transportation Authority) in two places -- by touting how he cut the payroll tax, which funds the MTA, and later by noting how "investments by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority help protect the reliability of the transportation network that supports the metropolitan New York regional economy and 8.5 million riders a day."

He also points out that the MTA's "Built in NY" program "has an impact on the economic development throughout new York State, from Oriskany to Jameston, Yonkers to Plattsburgh."'

Cuomo's delivered speech differed from his prepared remarks. Nevertheless,  Cuomo also did not say the word "transit" in his actual speech.  In his oral remarks, he did (briefly) refer to cutting the MTA payroll tax, and to MTA capital construction projects, though only in the context of his proposed infrastructure bank.

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Transportation Nation

Transportation Nation Livechatting Cuomo's State of the State

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Want an early peak at the Presidential campaign 2016?  Okay, now that we have your attention, join us at 1:30 EST here as join a team live-chatting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address, with a particular eye towards what he has to say on transit and transportation.

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Transportation Nation

New York's Taxi Bill's Long and Bumpy Ride

Friday, December 23, 2011

(New York, NY -- Kathleen Horan, WNYC) The path for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s outer borough taxi plan was much like long a cab ride: bumpy and expensive.

It’s been a mix of big political personalities and deep pockets that will lead to the virtual dismantling of the way New York's  for-hire transportation industry will operate in the future.

Now that the Bloomberg sponsored legislation has Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature, and both sides have called the agreement a win, much of the rest of the industry is trying to assess what the changes will actually mean.

Street Hails for Livery Cabs Causes a Stir

It all began last January, when Bloomberg announced he'd push for legislation that would allow all New Yorkers to hail a cab, whether it was black or yellow. That  raised the ire of much of the taxi industry, who said the Bloomberg administration never consulted with them or gave them a heads up that the mayor intended to change the way the taxi business operates.

Bloomberg’s people said they worked hard to reach out to all sides as the legislation was being drafted and agreed upon.

The mayor only needed Albany’s approval to sell more yellow medallions. But he hoped to by-pass the yellow medallion industry’s pull with the City Council --  and the industry passionately opposed sharing the exclusive right to accept street hails with livery counterparts.

In the six months between the announcement of the plan in January and the passage of the legislation in June, there were feverish negotiations and loud rallies organized by various factions of the yellow and black car stakeholders. Lobbyists were hired to fight the proposal upstate.  In those first months alone, the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, the group representing 23 yellow taxi fleet garages, enlisted three different lobbying firms, paying out more than $100,000.

Bloomberg said in a written statement  at the time that “The legislation marks an historic turning point for the riding public in New York City and solves a problem that has proven intractable for decades.”

What it marked was another serving of intractable for the mayor.

The Bill's Loud, Vocal Opposition

Bloomberg’s Senate sponsor, Martin Golden, said he signed onto the plan too soon without understanding the “repercussions.” Critics said Golden agreed to sponsor the bill, in part, because Bloomberg is generous to Republicans, in the city and upstate. But the state senator didn’t realize how many in the industry opposed the plan.  His phone — as other lawmakers' — rang off the hook. Angry livery base owners and others in their constituency complained that the plan would hurt their business.

As insiders continued to fight the plan or support it, the legislation seemed to be getting the cold shoulder from Governor Cuomo.

Then, in October, Cuomo showed his political hand by commenting on an opinion letter the U.S. Attorney filed on a lawsuit alleging the city violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by not having enough accessible cabs in its fleet (about two percent of more 13,000 taxis).

Cuomo said, “I understand and appreciate the concerns raised by the U.S. Attorneys office. Moreover, I understand the human needs of the disabled community when it comes to taxis. We will be addressing the issue as we consider modifications to the pending legislation.”

The governor continued to hammer Bloomberg and Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky about wheelchair accessibility. In his public comments, Cuomo didn’t shy away from threatening veto if it wasn’t changed.

Cuomo held 2 “taxi summits” calling industry stakeholders to his office. One was held in New York City and the other was held in Albany last month — chaired by the man himself.

At one point, a deal was said to be struck, and details were leaked. The number of outer borough permits would be cut and the number of accessible medallions would increase. But Cuomo denied any ‘plan.’ Insiders said the governor resented officials in the Bloomberg administration discussing the deal and shut it down as punishment.

Countdown Begins: To Veto or Not Veto

The bill landed on Cuomo’s desk without changes and the ten day clock began to tick.

Bhairavi Desai, head of the drivers group the Taxi Workers Alliance said, “Cuomo’s meeting was very surreal. We’ve always known our opposition was wealthy and politically connected. Everyone around that table had like millions of dollars or more in assets.”

There were yellow fleet owners, lenders, financial institutions and credit unions, along with their lobbyists. Livery groups and representatives from the disability community were also in attendance.

Desai said the city offered her group some sweeteners, but it was also about opposing the fat cats. “They say it’s about the medallion value—but it’s about the monopoly—their sense of control.”

The last couple days before the deadline, political insiders and industry stakeholders forecasted a veto by Cuomo. He himself said on numerous occasions that outcome was possible. When Bloomberg was asked by reporters each day if a deal would be passed he dismissed questions with a yes. But each successive day his mantra seemed less likely.

On the ninth day, the governor’s office sent out a release at 5:20 PM saying a taxi deal was struck.

At the press conference Cuomo and accessibility activists were there, along with TLC Commissioner Yassky. But Mayor Bloomberg was not. He made his comments via loudspeaker, not unlike the Wizard of Oz.

When asked at Bloomberg's celebratory press conference, surrounded by livery and taxi drivers on Wednesday, why he didn’t attend the event announcing an agreement he had fought for the whole year, Bloomberg said, “My job is here, I’ve got to work here. I was honored to speak, I don’t need my picture on TV all the time. I had the person there in the administration [David Yassky] that did the work. I was pleased and as I remember I had to cut my presentation short to light the world’s tallest menorah!”

Bloomberg also denied there was any bad blood between him and the governor. He said the negotiations actually resulted in a better bill. “What I wanted was 500 more yellow cabs for more city revenue and the Governor was focused on more accessibility.”

Waiting for the Final Language

Both camps have quieted down now that an agreement has been reached, but likely not for long.

Several issues still remain, such as will the city actually get over $1 billion from the sale of 2,000 yellow medallions and what the long-term Disabled Accessibility Plan will look like.

Marty McLaughlin who works with the lobbying firm Connelly, McLaughlin and Wolowz, forecasts much less revenue for the city than it projects.

“When you dilute a market — any market — the product itself is diluted,” he said. “No way they’ll get a billion dollars for these medallions, they’ve been diluted.”

The Livery Roundtable’s Guy Palumbo said industry opponents are taking the holidays to rest after actively fighting the plan for a year. “It’s taken a big physical toll, people are relieved either way. There’s a feeling of let’s cool our heels till January 1st then decide what to do.”

He said they’re also waiting to see what the actual language of the law will be and if the chapter amendment passes both houses of the legislature in January. “All the advisors have been telling everyone it could be good or it could be terrible. What’s in the law? No attorney will go to court without the law. We understand what’s agreed upon but without the actual language it’s never-never land.”

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Transportation Nation

NY Governor Cuomo Signs MTA Tax Reduction Into Law

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cuomo signs MTA Tax Cut Into Law (photo: NY Govenor's Office)

UPDATED (West Hempstead, NY -- Colby Hamilton with Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Following up on the first two pieces of his economic package passed last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo today signed into law a $250 million cut to the MTA payroll tax. The tax had been a consistent target of suburban lawmakers.

“Small businesses are New York’s growth engine and this tax reduction will help create jobs and get our state’s economy back on track without jeopardizing funding for the MTA,” the Governor said in a statement.

Today’s signing was held at a high school in West Hempstead, Long Island, where Cuomo basked in the approval of dozens of local elected officials who've been trying to repeal the tax since it passed in 2009.

“The MTA payroll tax has been particularly burdensome on Long Island," he said, before predicting that the tax cut would spark an “economic rebound” in Nassau and Suffolk Counties—along with the ten other counties served by the authority.

His remarks were interrupted several times by applause. When done, the governor posed for photos with one politician after another while displaying the newly signed bill.

According to Cuomo’s office, 289,000 businesses with annual payrolls below $1.25 million will see the tax disappear, while more than 6,000 businesses with payrolls between $1.25 and $1.75 million  will see their payroll tax cut by as much as two-thirds. An estimated 414,000 self-employed workers will also see their taxes lowered by reduced by the measure.

The new measure would also make elementary and secondary schools–both public and private–exempt from the tax, which won praise locally from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. The Governor has said that the state will pick up the quarter billion in funding for the transit authority lost through the tax cut.

“The MTA Payroll Tax has been damaging our economy and restricting the growth of quality jobs in New York,” Long Island State Senator Lee Zeldin said in a statement. “Repealing this tax for all small businesses and schools, and reducing the rate for others, spurs real economic development, and helps put New York State on the path towards prosperity.”

Transit advocates expressed concern after the bill’s passage that state has reneged in the past on promises like the one Cuomo is making to shore up the MTA's budget, and that it's led to led to steep fare hikes and service cuts like those seen in 2010.

Cuomo promised on Friday to match funds lost "dollar for dollar," but the actual legislation is silent on how that will be determined, and the governor added no specifics at today's event.

For more stories by Colby Hamilton, click here.

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WNYC News

Cuomo Sends Mixed Signals on Transit

Sunday, December 11, 2011

WNYC

Governor Andrew Cuomo received plaudits all around for his tax bill this week.  But one group — transit advocates — feels left out in the cold.

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Transportation Nation

ANALYSIS: What Cuomo's Tax Bill Says About Transit

Saturday, December 10, 2011

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo With Reporters (Photo: NY Governor's Office)

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo took the stage at Medgar Evars college in Brooklyn on Friday afternoon, he looked like the cat that ate the canary. The largely black student body gave him thrilled applause. One student yelled a soprano “we love you!” as he took questions from reporters. Not so-muted-references to Cuomo for President in 2016 swirled through the room.

It’s been that kind of week for the New York governor, who took several compliments for running a “functional” government – unlike --get it -- the one in Washington. He put together a tax plan that managed simultaneously to cut taxes for everyone while raising taxes for the super-rich. He set up an infrastructure bank to fund sorely-needed construction projects and create jobs. He was able to dole out hurricane relief funds to a besieged state. And – the subject of Friday’s Medgar Evers lovefest – set aside $75 million for “inner-city” job training and placement, a true passion of his.

But there’s one group that, this week, felt left out. For transit advocates under Governor Cuomo, it’s been a season of swallowing lemons.

There were the departures of MTA chief Jay Walder and Port Authority executive director Chris Ward, both seen as transit supporters – and their replacement with Cuomo loyalists Joe Lhota and Pat Foye, neither of whom has a background in public transportation.

There was the introduction of a massive plan to build a new Tappan Zee bridge, with the transit option mysteriously erased at the last minute.

And then: this week, to get his tax bill past the Republicans, the governor had to be willing to throw the MTA payroll tax under a bus, at least partially. Schools and small businesses would no longer have to pay the tax, which plays a vital role in maintaining the transit system.

Instead, there’s a vague assurance in the tax legislation passed this week that “any reductions in transit aid attributable to reductions in the metropolitan commuter transportation mobility tax authorized under article 23 of the tax law shall be offset through alternative sources that will be included in the state budget.”

Governor Cuomo reiterated that assurance Friday: “The state will pay, dollar-for-dollar, whatever amount would have been raised by that tax. So the MTA is held totally harmless -- we’re just shifting the source of those funds from the MTA payroll tax to state funds.”

And the governor said no one should conclude from this that he doesn’t care about transit as much as, say, jobs for inner-city youth. “Obviously the MTA is very important to the region's economy. I’m very excited about my appointee to the MTA, Joseph Lhota -- all reports are he’s doing a great job and this will not cost the MTA one penny.”

But the idea of a broke state government being the guarantor of transit funds has left straphangers advocates uneasy.

Mitchell Moss, the director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University and a member of Cuomo’s search committee that recommended Joe Lhota to head the MTA, has been willing to give Governor Cuomo the benefit of the doubt when it comes to transit. But in an online op-ed in the New York Times, Moss wrote: “Apparently forgotten [in the agreement] are the millions of low-income New Yorkers who, in addition to getting zero in tax cuts, must now rely on a Metropolitan Transit Authority that lost $250 million in tax revenue in exchange for a pledge that the funds will be made up, but for how long and in what form, no one knows.”

Moss continued: “Rather than treating the M.T.A. finances as an urgent problem, it makes them worse to gain support from Long Island and other suburban state legislators.”

At the end of the day, exactly how the funds will be spent won't be clear until there's a 2012 budget. If past is prologue, that, too, will be decided in a last-minute round the clock jumble that will have legislators, and everyone else, trying to figure out what they voted on after the fact.

There was another black-eye for transit advocates this week – the death of an obscure, but to them vitally important, bill – the “lockbox bill”-- that would have made it more difficult for the state legislature to help itself to taxes that otherwise would go to fund public transit. As recently as the year before last, the legislature did just that, contributing to the MTA’s budget woes by taking $150 million that was supposed to go to transit and using it to plug the state’s budget gap.

Both houses of the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have made that more difficult to do. But in the final run-up to the tax bill, most of that legislation was crossed out -- literally.

“The original legislation would have made it more difficult for the Governor to unilaterally divert MTA dedicated transit funds,” said a statement issued group of a dozen labor, transit, and good government groups.  The legislation passed this week “does not constrain future raids on transit funds,” the statement continued.

There was another source of concern this week – an infrastructure fund being established under the bill would accelerate state funding of big capital projects – and leverage private funds.  It’s been a dream of President Barack Obama to establish such a fund, and now Cuomo has one.

But both the press release and the legislation said it would fund roads, bridges, water tunnels, canals, dams, flood control efforts, even parks. But not transit. That left planners like Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association befuddled.

On Friday, Governor Cuomo said both the MTA and the Port Authority would be eligible for the funds, and that details would be revealed in his State of the State address in January.

But still, there’s a wariness that this Governor cares more about muscle cars than a muscular transit system.

Part of the unease is fueled by the rapidity with which the bill this week was presented. On Tuesday, the Governor issued a press release with the broad outlines of the agreement, but details were sketchy.

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign says he worked all week to get details, but few were forthcoming. “The process was opaque, the 180 degree opposite of transparent," he said. "I spent the better part of the week calling the administration and I didn’t hear back.” Those details he did get were misleading, he says, though he says that could be because the agreement changed after they were relayed to him. For example, he was told the MTA provisions would sunset – that’s not the case. He was told the exemptions wouldn’t include public schools – but they do.

(The same thing happened to us – the Governor’s office initially assured us the $250 million hole to the MTA budget would be plugged by a dedicated stream from the $1.9 billion reaped by the tax on the super-rich – but when the bill was finally presented -- minutes before it was voted on -- there was no such provision.)

Russianoff also says he was asked not to issue a statement on the lock box because a compromise was being brokered --  but when the language finally emerged, he was “disappointed.”

“This is my experience in Albany,” Russianoff said, of hastily-crafted legislation. “It’s too early, and it’s too early. And then it’s too late.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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