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NYC speaker: Beware of Albany raiding transit coffers

NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, above in January,

NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, above in January, told the Newsday and amNewYork editorial board on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2018, there is no guarantee city transportation funds can be protected from Albany. Credit: Craig Ruttle

A lock box is no steel trap, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson warned Wednesday.

Johnson — a Democrat who supports an anti-traffic-congestion plan to charge motorists $11.52 for entering parts of Manhattan and another to send more than $400 million of city tax dollars to bail out the state-run subways — cautioned that Albany might raid revenue for a different purpose despite promises to the contrary.

“My fear of a lock box is, I’ve never met a lock box without a key,” Johnson told the Newsday and amNewYork editorial board. “You put the lock box there, it makes it more difficult to raid it . . . but not impossible.”

He added: “I wouldn’t want to create additional revenue . . . which then, next year, Albany would say, ‘Oh, you have this extra money so we’re going to decrease money over here that we typically put in so it comes about even, so you’re actually not getting more money in the end.’ ”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo controls, has been struggling to fix the ailing subways, beset by delays, breakdowns and bloated costs.

In July, MTA chairman Joe Lhota requested that the city fund half of an $800 million bailout plan. Mayor Bill de Blasio has refused the request, demanding first the return of what he says is hundreds of millions committed to fund mass transit that wound up going to non-transit purposes.

Johnson, who rode the E train to Wednesday’s editorial-board meeting in Manhattan, has said he favors giving the MTA the money in exchange for more accountability about how it’s spent.

A 2015 report by City Comptroller Scott Stringer found that the city contributed nearly 70 percent of the MTA’s budget, which also funds the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North systems.

The plan to charge motorists $11.52 was proposed in January by a panel of experts commissioned by Cuomo. It calls for money to be dedicated to the MTA, and requires Albany approval.

De Blasio, a Democrat, has long opposed congestion pricing, but he has called the $11.52 surcharge “a step in the right direction.”

Johnson, who met with Albany leaders Feb. 5, hypothesized that a deal could be struck for the city to contribute more to the subways in exchange for cutting red tape mandated by the state’s peculiar “design-build”process for infrastructure, expediting of procurement procedures or other items on de Blasio’s wish list.

“Maybe if the mayor were able to get some other good things for the city that are really important to him,” Johnson said, “maybe he would be more willing for the city to come up with a one-time payment.”

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