New York City and state dig in over mass transit funding

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Fixing mass transit in metropolitan New York could involve several components including a transportation bond act and congestion pricing, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday as the city and state renewed their budget tussle.

"I heard almost a real consensus that it will have to be a multi-element task," de Blasio told reporters in Albany after testifying before the joint fiscal legislative committees on the fiscal 2020 state budget.

De Blasio on Thursday presented his $92.2 billion preliminary budget. The mayor and the 51-member City Council must finalize the spending plan by June 30.

It contains no further amount for the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the city's buses and subways, though it calls for $2.7 million annually on street improvements for bus travel. The spending plan includes $106 million to continue the "fair fares" discount program for low-income transit riders.

(Audio: Citizens Budget Commission President Andrew Rein reacts to Mayor Bill de Blasio's preliminary budget.)

The mayor favors a millionaire's tax — his default option on many initiatives and politically difficult given the hit higher-income New Yorkers expect to take through the elimination of state and local deductions under President Trump's tax overhaul last year.

"Obviously I believe in the millionaire's tax, other people believe in congestion pricing, but it's not going to be just one thing. It's going to be multiple pieces put together, and some important give-and-take that will be needed in the process to get to a final legislative plan," de Blasio said.

Other options include taxes on internet sales and marijuana.

De Blasio also warned that a planned $600 million in state cuts and cost shifts would burden his city. In addition, the state itself revealed an additional $300 million shortfall on personal income tax revenue.

Mass-transit breakdowns and delays have cast a glare on the MTA, one of the largest municipal issuers with roughly $41 billion in debt. Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week called for an overhaul of at the MTA, which he called "a disgrace."

De Blasio said any congestion pricing plan should include strong lockbox provisions, citing previous state siphoning of $453 million in transit-dedicated funds. "The last thing you want to see is bait and switch, the money going somewhere else."

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, also speaking in Albany, reiterated his call for a $3.5 billion transportation bond act. "We must fund the MTA's capital plan," he said.

He also prodded lawmakers to pass a congestion pricing plan by the April 1 state budget deadline. Advocates say the move could raise $1.5 billion annually for transit improvements and up to $15 billion through bonding.

"We need to take advantage of the only revenue option that will also curb traffic in Manhattan's commercial core to avoid further deterioration our transit system," Stringer said.

Both de Blasio and Stringer warned against ceding control of city streets to MTA unit Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority for any congestion-pricing implementation.

"As a plan is developed, it must respect the rights and prerogatives of New York City," the mayor said. "I certainly expect everyone to understand that and I expect the legislature to be particularly sensitive to that reality." Stringer said TBTA should not bypass standard reviews and permits.

According to de Blasio, the city needs "more and better" transit options.

"Bikes has been one of them, ferries has been another, light rail will be another. So, we are playing a long game here," he said. "I think it's the right thing to do for now, but I think it's even more important to do for the future."

De Blasio's planned north-south Brooklyn-Queens Connector light-rail line has stalled over funding concerns that include whether revenue from real estate value capture, which the city used in its Hudson Yards development in Manhattan and expansion of the No. 7 subway line, would work in a corridor along the East River west of Interstate 278.

"It is entirely different than anything else we're talking about, because the only way it happens is if there's substantial federal support and through the improvement in property-tax receipts that we would expect because it exists," he said.

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State budgets Infrastructure Bill de Blasio Andrew Cuomo City of New York, NY State of New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority New York