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Cuomo vetoes two MTA bills

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in Bethel, N.Y. (Nov. 6, 2013) Credit: AP

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday vetoed bills that would order the MTA to hold more hearings before raising fares and place public transportation funds in a "lock box" that couldn't be tapped for other government functions.

Cuomo called the measures unnecessary and restrictive, but backers said his vetoes would limit commuter input about MTA policies and endanger transit funding.

State Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick) sponsored the measure that would have compelled the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to hold a hearing in every county affected by any proposed fare, toll or service change. He said Cuomo was "wrong" to nix a measure that would have given the public more input into MTA operations.

"When it considered the most recent fare increase proposal in the fall of 2012, the MTA held public forums in different areas of the MTA region, but there were several counties in which no public hearing was held, even though residents of those counties were directly impacted by the MTA changes," Fuschillo said in a statement. "The MTA also holds simultaneous hearings in different counties, thereby preventing all the board members from being present at all hearings."

In an interview, Fuschillo said, "The whole purpose of the bill was to bring transparency to the fare process."

The MTA serves 12 counties in the downstate region.

Cuomo, a Democrat, said the MTA already conducts "extensive" outreach on proposed fare and service changes. Cuomo said the agency held eight public hearings into the 2012 fare hike and provided satellite locations where customers could have their comments recorded. He noted riders can also mail and email comments to the MTA.

Cuomo said he blocked the "lock box" proposal because restricting the use of certain funds could hamper the state during fiscal emergencies. Many of his predecessors have made the same argument when the State Legislature has tried to restrict certain funds. Cuomo indicated he could have supported the proposal if the Legislature had amended it to allow fund transfers for fiscal emergencies.

A commuters' advocacy group said the veto could hurt transportation services.

"The veto means that taxes and fees dedicated to public transit will remain extremely vulnerable to budget raids," Tri-State Transportation Campaign executive director Veronica Vanterpool said in a statement. "The public and the legislature recognize that diverting specially dedicated transit funds to plug budget gaps is simply wrong."

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