The subways are going to pot — and that may be a good thing.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday announced that revenue from legal marijuana sales in New York state would help fuel repairs to the crumbling MTA.
The announcement from the two oft-rivals came amid a broader 10-point plan to reorganize and fix up Big Apple mass transit, which includes a proposal to dedicate “a percentage of the State and City revenue from the cannabis excise tax” to the MTA.
Much of the announcement includes policy proposals long sought by both Cuomo and de Blasio — while providing few additional details or the language that lawmakers in Albany will be expected to vote on.
Under the deal, de Blasio — long a congestion pricing critic — agreed to plans to toll cars traveling into Manhattan south of Central Park to generate a potential $15 billion in cash for the MTA’s enormous $41 billion list of maintenance and upgrade needs. That largely follows the plan outlined in Cuomo’s current budget proposal.
The money would go into a “lock box” to pay for big-ticket items in the maintenance plan, including the overhauling the subways decrepit signals, buying new train cars and installing elevators in 50 new stations. It would also help fund bus improvements and expand transit in outer-borough areas with limited service.
It was the first time congestion pricing received support from de Blasio, who has long pushed a “millionaires tax” as the cure to transit funding woes.
“I still believe a Millionaires Tax provides the best, most sustainable revenue source for the transit improvements our city needs. But the time to act is running out, and among all alternatives, congestion pricing has the greatest prospects for immediate success,” de Blasio said in a statement Tuesday.
“In light of this reality, it is my hope that critics of congestion pricing will join me in acknowledging its necessity.”
But the agreement also gives de Blasio a win by guaranteeing a slice of the pot tax and expected Internet sales tax revenues will also flow to the troubled transit authority.
The two also agreed to codify the existing practice of capping fare increases at 2 percent annually.
The MTA will also undergo an independent audit by 2020, and a “super board” composed of “transportation, engineering and government experts who have no existing financial relationship with the MTA” will audit the agency’s capital plan and review toll and fare increases moving forward, officials said.
Meanwhile, six agencies comprising much of the MTA’s operations — NYC Transit, MTA Bus, the Staten Island Railway, the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North and MTA Capital Construction — will be “consolidated and streamlined in a central operation.”
“The management is as important as the money,” Cuomo told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Tuesday morning. “We don’t want to throw good money after bad.”
However, the proposal’s call to strip NYC subways chief Andy Byford of his authority over purchasing and construction — while passing that power to the agency’s central office — raised red flags for longtime MTA watchdogs.
“This is a huge reduction in the authority of the president of New York City Transit, Andy Byford,” said John Kaehny, a longtime MTA watchdog who runs good government group, Reinvent Albany. “There’s no other way to read it.”
“Currently, it’s all under one roof,” he added. “If they want to do line closures to install new signals, Byford controls the process from start to finish. Now he won’t.”
Cuomo defended the management proposal Tuesday morning.
“The management is as important as the money,” he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Tuesday morning. “We don’t want to throw good money after bad.”
Byford was brought in from London in 2018 to rescue New York’s subways and has implemented a host of well-received reforms that have sped trains and improved reliability.
But Cuomo has turned Byford into a punching bag in recent weeks.
He trashed the subway chief’s “FastForward” plan to close down subway lines while installing new computerized signaling system, and insists the MTA experiment with unproven high-frequency radio transponders as a means to installing upgrades without halting service.
And Cuomo MTA appointees nixed Byford’s oversight of the Canarsie Tube repairs after he promised an independent review of the governor’s controversial decision to nix the tunnel’s shutdown and reconstruction.
Straphanger advocates at the Riders Alliance cheered the plan.
“When the governor and mayor put out a plan together, it means real momentum toward enacting congestion pricing to fix the subway,” the group said in a statement.
“The governor and mayor are working together to address the transit crisis, and now we need the Senate and Assembly to do their part and pass congestion pricing as part of this year’s budget.”
Additional reporting by Carl Campanile
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