Legislators try to resurrect a failed measure to protect M.T.A. money from raiding by Albany

Subway on Manhattan Bridge, 1974. (U.S. National Archives, via flickr)
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In December, the Cuomo administration and state legislature neutered a piece of legislation known as "the lockbox bill," that would have made it more difficult for the legislature to tamper with money intended to fund the financially unstable M.T.A.

Though the legislation had already been approved by both houses, the bill's principal provision was somehow removed amid the flurry of negotiations that restructured the state tax code and created a new class of outer-borough taxis.

No longer would the governor be required to publish a “diversion impact statement” upon redirecting mass transit funding to other uses, as both Governors Andrew Cuomo and David Paterson have done in the past.

Now, the original bill's backers are trying again. Earlier this year, Democratic assemblyman James Brennan and Republican senator Martin Golden, both sponsors of the original bill, introduced a broader version of the legislation and have begun a renewed lobbying effort for the measure.

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The bill is supported by the Straphangers Campaign, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, Reinvent Albany, and a number of unions. (Here’s a more comprehensive list.)

Unlike last year’s bill, which applied only to the M.T.A., this one would apply to mass-transit systems with dedicated funding streams statewide.

“All the big cities, Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, have bus systems,” said John Kaehny, the executive director of Reinvent Albany, who described the proposal as “very popular upstate.”

Crucially, the bill reinstitutes the diversion impact statement that was unexpectedly stricken from the final legislation passed last year.

“The diversion impact statement is probably the most politically powerful aspect of the legislation, because it makes diversions of the transit funds more explicit and more detailed,” said Kaehny. “And therefore, there’s a higher political price to pay for those diversion.”

Neither Brennan nor Golden would comment for this story, but the bill has 39 other sponsors in the Assembly, and one in the Senate.

“We know that upstate G.O.P. senators like it and in fact the bill was expanded to statewide at the request of upstate G.O.P. senators,” said Kaehny, adding, “We think the bill’s going to pass again, either this session or next session.”

It’s unclear whether, once it passes, the governor (who has sought to increase, rather than diminish, his budgeting power) will sign the measure should it pass.

His spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.