M.T.A. chair says he’s OK with no ‘lockbox’ as long as the state pays up

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Prendergast on Monday. (Dana Rubinstein)
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M.T.A. head Tom Prendergast today explained why it is he's not "unduly tied" to a bill pushed by transportation advocates that would better protect M.T.A. funds from gubernatorial raids.

“Well whether there's a lockbox or not, in terms of my short stay here as chairman and C.E.O ... whenever we had a need for dollar, we got it from the state," said the M.T.A. chairman and C.E.O. at a Crain's New York Business breakfast at the Sheraton on Seventh Avenue.

Last session, both houses of the state legislature unanimously passed a bill that would make it a bit harder for Albany to redirect resources intended for state transportation authorities elsewhere, as this governor and past ones have shown a tendency to do.

In essence, it would require the governor and legislature to publish a statement explaining how that redirection would impact transportation service. 

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The bill has an unusual level of both upstate and downstate support, but Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to sign it, or say whether he will.

Cuomo appointed Prendergast to his current position.

"As you get older in life, you start to look at things differently because you experience different things," Prendergast continued today. "I could be a transportation advocate, I can, as the chairman and C.E.O. of the M.T.A., fight for the advocacy in all of our needs, but at a legislative level, when they’re down to the last dollar, and there’s education, there’s transportation, there’s health, all of those mouths have to be fed. And it wasn’t until I had my own children and had my own issues that were outside of transportation that I understood the importance of why health care spending needed to be what it needed to be, and why education needed to be what it needed to be.

"So while I like lockboxes, I don’t get unduly tied to them and at the end of the day, if the money we need comes our way, that’s what I’m looking forward to. And I will be a strong advocate for that."

"Prendergast is a strong leader who wants to make sure the needs of the system are understood by the public and legislators," emailed Veronica Vanterpool, the executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which has been lobbying for the bill. "And, as transit riders, we need political decisions, especially relating to dedicated transit funding, to be made in a transparent and fair process. The lockbox bill accomplishes both and must be passed."

Separately, Prendergast again defended the 12-country structure of the M.T.A., in the face of arguments by Christine Quinn and Anthony Weiner, among people who are running for mayor, that the city is entitled to exercise more control over it.

"It’s a very successful governance model," said Prendergast, of the existing structure, adding, "It is probably one of the best models. ... It’s a model built on making decisions on a regional basis, so that the region as a whole can benefit from it, not one party or another."