The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority on Thursday adopted operating and capital budgets totaling $206.6 million – plans relying on a $2.25 million hike in state assistance that Albany so far shows no sign of providing.
The authority also will rely on a host of projected increases, including 5.3 percent in federal operating assistance, 2.5 in Erie County sales tax proceeds, 3.4 percent in the county’s mortgage recording tax and 1 percent in passengers using Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
But NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel defended those projections, saying her staff bases its projections on solid data compiled over the last five to 10 years.
Minkel also said she is confident the Cuomo administration will eventually recognize the adverse impact on service resulting from another year of stagnant State Transit Operating Assistance (STOA).
“We feel that if we were to compare ourselves on the number of people served and number of miles traveled – the metrics traditionally used – we qualify for more STOA,” she said, adding that the petroleum-use tax that funds upstate transit agencies needs revamping.
“For the sake of all upstate transit agencies, there needs to be a recognition that the petroleum tax is a structurally deficient model,” she said. “It’s based on usage and not dollars. It’s not sustainable.”
Minkel and NFTA Chairman Howard A. Zemsky have long maintained that high gasoline prices discourage purchase of gasoline while depressing its tax proceeds dedicated to transit agencies in cities like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany.
They also contend the concept runs counter to the goal of transportation authorities like the NFTA of attracting more passengers onto public transit.
But even as the NFTA attempts to make the case for increased funding or a revision of the funding formula for upstate transit agencies, state Division of Budget officials earlier this week discouraged hope of new dollars by asking the authority to first examine its own expenses.
Minkel, meanwhile, says the NFTA has already trimmed as much as possible and referred to a recent Federal Transit Administration audit commending the authority for its management practices.
Zemsky said the NFTA has also resolved to address a number of capital needs such as rebuilding its rail car fleet in an effort to avoid even more costly repair bills in the future.
“We’ve gotten away from mortgaging our future for the sake of balancing our budget,” he said. “