A Southwest Brooklyn Republican lawmaker and the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate came to Bay Ridge Friday morning to call on Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation aimed at protecting Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) funds from being raided by state officials to pay for “pet projects” that have nothing to do subways and buses.
State Sen. Martin Golden, a Republican representing a swath of Brooklyn running from Bay Ridge via Bensonhurst and Gravesend to Marine Park, stood outside the 86th Street subway station on Fourth Avenue with Chele Farley, the Republican running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and said the MTA’s coffers need to be protected from the state’s greedy fingers.
“The governor has the ability to take funds from the MTA and use it for pet projects. Despite new taxes, increased fares, the (transit) system is collapsing before our eyes,” Golden said, adding that if the transportation agency were able to keep all of its money, it would be able to replace ancient subway switches, repair tracks and do other things to make the subways run more smoothly.
The switches used by the MTA date back to the 1940s, Golden said. Fixing the switches would enable the MTA to run trains more closely together, thereby reducing the time riders have to wait for a train.
“I am encouraging the governor to please, please sign this legislation. This legislation is incredibly important,” Farley said. Something has to be done, according to Farley, who pointed out that MTA passengers make up a massive chunk, approximately 40 percent, of all the mass transit riders in the entire U.S. and yet are forced to deal with an antiquated transit system
It’s not clear just how much money has been diverted from the MTA to other state projects over the years, but Farley estimated that it could be as much as $500 million.
The bill was approved by both the state Senate and the state Assembly during the recent legislative session. Cuomo has until the end of the year to decide whether to sign it or not.
Golden said his frustration over the situation is acute because state lawmakers thought they had solved the MTA fund-raiding problem through previous legislation.
The MTA’s funding stream was changed in 2011, according to Golden, who said a new law went into effect that created a separate “lockbox” to put MTA funds into, replacing the previous system in which the money was put into New York State’s general fund.
But the law contained a loophole that allows the governor to take funds from the MTA to pay for specific projects, even if those projects were not transportation-related, Golden said.
Under the new bill, the governor would still be able to raid MTA funds, but only for dire emergencies.
Farley, an engineer by trade, estimated that it would take anywhere from $19 to $31 billion to fix the New York City transit system. If MTA funds were not diverted to other uses, repairs could be made, she said.
The governor’s press office did not return calls or reply to emails.