A favorite gambit by governors needing cash to balance budgets is to raid the fund balances in various state authorities and agencies. If some of that money is declared surplus, it’s fair game for being swept into the general fund as one of the state’s notorious one-shot budget gimmicks.
Raiding one such pot – the dedicated fund that supports the state’s public transit systems – has affected millions of transit riders. The practice should stop, and legislation passed unanimously by the Assembly and Senate would do just that. The bill needs one more thing: the governor’s signature.
The transit fund has its own dedicated revenue stream, from taxes and fees. That money should go to its intended use. Instead, in the latest raid, $20 million meant for New York City’s MTA was diverted to this year’s state budget.
The $20 million was up for grabs because it was declared surplus. But if it was truly surplus, it should have been returned to taxpayers or dedicated to other transit needs.
Reinvent Albany calls the diversions a “gigantic bait-and-switch scam” in that dedicated taxes are approved to fix one funding problem, but then the money is used for other priorities. The organization says that over the past decade, more than $3.7 billion has been taken from dedicated funds for other uses.
The Transit Lockbox Bill won’t bar a governor from taking money from the fund; that would take a constitutional amendment. The bill would only make it more difficult to raid the fund by requiring the state to first prepare what amounts to a victim impact statement. The statement would specify the amount of money being diverted and its possible impact on transit riders, and the total amount diverted over the years.
While we’re normally not in favor of adding to the red tape imposed by the state, in this case a dose of transparency will be a good thing.
Fares don’t come close to paying the cost of mass transit. Government subsidies are necessary, and that’s why the state created a dedicated revenue stream. Signing the Transit Lockbox Bill will help ensure that the money reaches its intended beneficiaries.