2:27 pm Jun. 14, 2012
On Monday, transit advocates will meet with Yomika Bennett, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s assistant transportation secretary, to plead for a bill that would make it more difficult for Albany to raid mass-transit funding. At the moment, that bill appears to be going nowhere.
In December, the governor signed a piece of legislation known as the "lockbox bill". The bill was designed to protect M.T.A. funding from the whims of governors and legislators who regularly reappropriate M.T.A.-dedicated funding for other things.
Advocates considered one provision of the law vital: the so-called "diversion impact statement," which would require the governor to, before he raids transit funds, publicly declare the size of the diversion and its anticipated impact on mass-transit operations.
The governor signed the bill—but only after that key diversion impact statement was eliminated. Advocates say the bill was neutered.
Not to be dissuaded, advocates and sympathetic legislators tried to undo the neutering.
Earlier this year, Republican state senator Marty Golden and Democratic assemblyman James Brennan introduced a new version of the legislation, one that included the missing diversion impact statement.
Unlike the original bill, this one was also designed to harness statewide support by applying not only to the M.T.A., but also to the 130 transit agencies statewide.
“Up in the Adirondacks, it’s the little rural, county bus system or van system that’s helping seniors get where they need to go,” the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Albany legislative advocate Nadine Lemmon told me in late May.
Lemmon and John Kaehny, the executive director of Reinvent Albany, have been the principal advocates for the new legislation.
Asked about the bill’s status last month, Golden’s spokesman John Quaglione emailed, “I have been informed that we are working on technical amendments to the bill which should be completed by next week.”
An amendment, which Golden's office recently circulated (available here) would seem to be more than just "technical:" it once again eliminates that diversion impact statement.
"[O]ur coalition has decided that the edit guts the intent and meat of the law,” said Lemmon, in an email on Thursday, adding, “if there are going to be diversions, the information contained in the impact statement is crucial. Those casting the vote need to do so with eyes wide open.”
Brennan's office isn't too fond of the Senate's amendment either.
“We’re completely opposed to that," said Lorrie Smith, his legislative director. "That’s the whole reason for putting the bill in after the governor eliminated it [last] year," she said.
Smith said the Assembly wouldn't pass the new lockbox bill with the Senate amendment.
She also said that, while her office hasn't had discussions with the governor's about the bill, "I suspect that they have problems with it. They eliminated that impact statement last year. So I think that speaks pretty strongly for itself.”
The governor’s office had no comment.