Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants a "lockbox" for mass transit funds that would ensure the money raised from his proposed congestion pricing plan is used exclusively for building projects.
Speaking to a business group in Manhattan on Thursday, Cuomo said he will include the lockbox — an account with restrictions on how its proceeds are spent — in amendments to his 2019-20 state budget. The amendments are due later this month.
He also said he will aim to combat a spike in fare evasion, strip legislative leaders of their unilateral veto of MTA capital plans, subject the plans to a forensic audit, reconstitute the agency’s board of directors, and reduce the cost of building projects by requiring a single contract for design and construction services provided by the private sector instead of government.
“The MTA is a disgrace for this state. . . . We are at a point of crisis. . . . We cannot punt any more,” Cuomo told about 400 people at the Association for a Better New York luncheon in midtown Manhattan. “I actually believe we can make progress.”
Any changes to the MTA, which runs commuter railroads including the Long Island Rail Road and subways and buses in New York City, will likely occur in the state budget, which must be adopted before the April 1 start of the state fiscal year.
Cuomo didn’t say directly that he wants control of the MTA but suggested six possible leadership scenarios, including one where he is in charge.
“I’m not going to tell New Yorkers that I will try to fix the MTA without the authority to do it,” he said on Thursday.
The current 23-member MTA board has gubernatorial appointees, but it also has appointees from New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and county executives across the metropolitan region.
Cuomo said congestion pricing — charging a toll to commuters who enter Manhattan south of 60th Street — is the best new funding source for the MTA. He painted a stark picture for the State Legislature, asking lawmakers to either adopt congestion pricing or face a nearly 30 percent fare increase by the MTA.
"Congestion pricing is the only logical and realistic option to fund the MTA's capital needs," Cuomo said.
In 2008, a congestion pricing plan from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg died in the Assembly, when the Democratic majority refused to bring a bill to a vote.
Thursday, spokesmen for the Democratic majorities in both legislative houses were non-commital on Cuomo's congestion pricing plan.
"We are discussing congestion pricing and various ways to fund the MTA," said the Assembly's Michael Whyland. He declined to comment on Cuomo's proposal to strip the veto power of the Assembly Speaker and State Senate Majority Leader over the MTA's five-year capital plans.
The Senate's Mike Murphy said, the majority is "prioritizing the need to fix the crumbling MTA with dedicated revenues implemented in a fair manner. We will discuss congestion pricing and other MTA solutions," he said.
Under Cuomo's proposal, the 1.8 percent of Nassau commuters and the 0.8 percent of Suffolk commuters who drive into Manhattan would pay more. A total of $15 billion would be raised over five years, he projects.
The association’s membership applauded loudly at the mention of congestion pricing.
Before Cuomo came to the podium, association chairman Steven Rubenstein, president of the Rubenstein public relations firm in Manhattan, told the crowd congestion pricing is a “desperately needed revenue stream to improve our transit system.”