Senator introduces bill to stop MTA funding raids

Legislative Gazette photos by Katelyn Cordero

Following media reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo funneled nearly $5 million from the Metropolitan Transit Authority to struggling upstate ski resorts, a senator has introduced legislation aimed at preventing similar budget raids in the future.

Deputy Minority Leader Sen. Michael Gianaris, D – Queens, introduced a bill (S.6834) that would prevent the state from raiding the MTA to fund other institutions.

“The MTA is dying due to lack of funding,” Gianaris said. “It does more damage redirecting funds to purposes unrelated to MTA than it does good.

Sen. Gianaris

“This is part of a bigger problem due to complete neglect from state leaders that continues to this day,” Gianaris continued.

In 2015-16, the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) was the recipient of $4.9 million after a mild winter that resulted in approximately $25 million in operating losses.

Over the last decade, ORDA has incurred nearly $200 million in losses, and even with more snow this past winter, was still on the hook for almost $21 million for the season.

ORDA owns and operates Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington, Belleayre Ski Center in the Catskills and Gore Mountain Ski Center in North Creek.

The matching Assembly bill, which is expected to be introduced soon by Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, D–Manhattan, would exempt the MTA from having to reimburse New York State for expenses incurred on its behalf.

“It’s clear that prioritizing reimbursements over repairs is what has driven us to this transportation crisis,” O’Donnell said. “With the MTA infrastructure in a steady decline well before this year, the logic of requests to divert funds this way comes into question.

“I hope this legislation is the first step in eliminating some of the many bureaucratic obstacles hindering a fix to our badly ailing system,” he concluded.

Gianaris’ fight to fix New York City’s iconic transportation system doesn’t stop at keeping the resources it has. The Senator also recently introduced his “Better Trains, Better Cities” proposal which would impose a temporary surcharge on people in the New York metropolitan area that earn over $1 million annually.

Gradually, the surcharge would then reach people in the $5-$10 million range and then those making upwards of $10 million annually.

An additional hotel tax would add a $5 fee to the current tax. It is estimated that the two surcharges combined would raise more than $2 billion annually, which would be dedicated exclusively to maintaining and upgrading the MTA system at the discretion of the emergency manager.

If the proposal is passed, it is estimated that $6-$7 billion would be raised exclusively for the MTA system.

Larry Penner, a transportation historian and expert, says that though Gianaris’ intentions are good, and the bill is important, he’s missing the bigger picture.

“Not raiding the MTA is good, but $5 million against the $32 billion Five-year Transportation Capital Program is chump change,” Penner said. “The real issue is that Gov. Cuomo is focusing too much on expansion programs such as Phase Two of the Second Avenue Subway station and is woefully undervaluing and underfunding current stations that are in desperate need of infrastructure repairs and bringing signals up to speed.”

While it’s a small one, Gianaris believes that passing this legislation will be a step in the right direction.

“It will give the MTA extra funds, and though it’s a modest sum, every bit helps,” he said. “It would set the tone that MTA should be receiving money, not giving it out.”