Albany Bumps Up Transit in the State Budget

April 3rd, 2012

Albany has passed the 2012-2013 State Budget on time for the second consecutive year. Compared to previous years, transit made out pretty well:

MTA Capital Plan

In the end, the State decided to support the MTA’s Capital Program, despite the Senate’s proposal to scratch $770 million in capital funding and refuse to raise the agency’s debt limit.  The State’s support will go a long way to help prop up the underfunded program that maintains and expands the MTA network. The capital program creates 350,000 jobs and $44 billion in economic benefit for New York State, in part due to the state’s extensive transit manufacturing sector.

Unfortunately, the heavy reliance on outside lending has troubling repercussions down the road. Already, 17% of the operating budget goes to debt service on current and past projects. The NYS Comptroller estimates annual debt service will grow to $3.3 billion (over 22% of the operating budget) in 2018, with the increased debt burden putting further strain on fares and service levels. Riders are preparing for the MTA’s upcoming fare hike at the beginning of next year. Like the last fare increase, this is likely to have a particularly burdensome effect on low-income communities and communities of color in the outer boroughs. Fare increases are also planned for 2015 and 2017.

Upstate transit gets some help

Upstate systems will be helped by a 6.95% increase in operating funding.  A corporate and utilities tax, which is collected statewide but has previously gone only to downstate systems, will now go to fund transit across the state for the next year.  The Governor’s budget proposed this as a permanent reform, but backlash from the Assembly constrained it to only one year. The state is also releasing $16 million of capital moneypreviously allocated for upstate transit providers.  It’s unclear whether the funding increase will be enough to stop a double-digit-percentage fare hike and 6% service reduction for NFTA riders, or hold back layoffs and route reductions for the CDTA, but this is certainly a welcome improvement over previous years.

BRT on the Tappan Zee Bridge

Unfortunately, the budget did not include language to secure Bus Rapid Transit as part of the rebuilding of the Tappan Zee Bridge (in fact, funding has not been identified for the bridge itself). Senators Martin Dilan and John Bonacic issued a bipartisan call for Tappan Zee BRT, which would provide affordable and environmentally friendly transit trips across the Hudson River.