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Politics

MTA funds should be spent on transit only, Golden says

In 2016, New York State forced the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to write a $4.9 million check to help three financially-strapped ski resorts in the upstate region that were experiencing tough times due to a warm winter and a serious shortage of skiers.

Under orders from the Cuomo Administration, the MTA dutifully sent a check to the Olympic Regional Development Authority, a state-controlled entity that operates the Belleayre Ski Center, Gore Mountain and Whiteface Mountain ski resorts, according to the New York Daily News, which was the first to report the fiscal finagling.

But it was not the only time New York State has taken funds meant for buses, subways and other transportation needs and used the money for other purposes, according to transit advocates, who said they want to practice to stop.

The state would no longer be able to divert funds away from the MTA if a bill championed by State Sen. Marty Golden and passed by the state legislature is signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

It’s not clear, however, if Cuomo intends to sign the legislation sponsored by Golden, a Republican representing southwest Brooklyn in the State Senate and Bronx Democratic Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz in the Assembly.

Cuomo vetoed a similar bill in 2013.

The new bill, which was passed by the legislature before the end of session, would prevent the state from raiding the MTA like a piggy bank and converting the funds to other uses.

Golden, who is the Senate’s representative on the MTA Capital Review Board, charged that funds targeted for the MTA have frequently been used by the state for other things.

Where does the money go?

Most often, the state takes money meant for the MTA and throws it into the general budget, meaning that it could be used for literally anything.

The state also forces the MTA to pay debt service. The MTA’s debt service payments ballooned to over $2.5 billion this year, Golden said.

That’s wrong, because it takes much-needed funding away from transportation needs, Golden charged.

“As the Senate representative on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Capital Review Board, I know how important it is that resources dedicated to the MTA, stay with the MTA. The executive should not be able to ‘sweep’ monies dedicated for transportation and use them in other ways. This bill stops this shortsighted practice, and ensures that we have the funding needed to bring the MTA transportation system up to speed,” Golden said in a statement.

The New York Times estimated that over the past three decades, $1.5 billion has been re-directed from the MTA.

The practice of diverting funds is especially egregious now, in light of the fact that New York City’s buses and subways are badly in need of repair, Dinowitz said.

“If the people of New York are expected to continue paying increased fares and new taxes or fees to fix our subways and buses, then they should be confident that this money is being spent in the right place,” Dinowitz stated.

In the case of the ski resort payment, the $4.9 million was money that the MTA owed to the state, according to officials. But it was unusual for the state to order the MTA to make a direct payment to another state-owned entity, officials said.

Meanwhile, the Golden-Dinowitz bill has been endorsed by transportation advocacy groups.

“For too long, transit funding has been susceptible to budget raids, all while fares have increased, service has been cut, and the New York City transit system has fallen into a state of disrepair,” said Jaqi Cohen, campaign coordinator for the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign.

“Money intended for transit should actually go to transit,” said John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance.

The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

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