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WNYC News

Is Cuomo's Star Fading?

Monday, June 10, 2013

WNYC

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo faces perhaps his biggest challenge yet as the end of his third legislative session rapidly approaches. His poll numbers are falling, and his agenda is in danger. Reporter Karen DeWitt looks at whether the governor can pull it off.

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Transportation Nation

[UPDATED] NY Legislature Passes Transit Lock Box Bill

Thursday, June 23, 2011

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.

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATE APPENDED.

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.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Chief Spars With Legislators Over Paying for Transit With Payroll Tax

Monday, February 28, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) In a sometimes heated hearing, state legislators and NYC Chairman Jay Walder squared off on the payroll tax that the NY state legislature approved in 2009 to bail out the agency. The tax applies to businesses in the twelve counties the MTA serves in an around New York City.

"We are paying greater freight in the suburbs for the services that are basically New York City services," said Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun from Orange and Rockland Counties, reflecting a common view among suburban legislators.

Walder said he didn't see the tax as a short-term fix but a part of the MTA's permanent financing solution. "I don't foresee a plan in any time frame in which you can phase out the payroll tax," he said, when asked if the MTA could ever balance its budget without it.

Walder said the tax--in which each employer pays one-third of one percent of its payroll to the state--brings in $1.4 billion a year to the authority. That's fifteen times the money saved by all of last year's service cuts.

Walder said the MTA wouldn't raise fares or cut service to meet its 2011 budget. But he wouldn't rule out adding more layoffs to the 1,700 workers laid off last year.

New York Governor Cuomo has repeatedly said that he is open to a "better way" of funding the MTA than by a payroll tax. But has yet to propose an alternative.

The payroll tax was part of a bailout package proposed by Richard Ravitch, the former MTA chief who later became Lt. Governor under David Paterson. Ravitch had initially proposed the tax in conjunction with a toll on the East River Bridges that are now free -- including the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges.  But those tolls were rejected, and a watered-down package including the payroll tax, a taxi-cab surcharge, and a tax on rental cars was ultimately passed.

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