Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials are breathing a lot easier at not losing $3.6 million annually in federal funding. New York State agencies would have lost more than $100 million.
Plans, now dropped, to slash mass transit funding for “high-density” states created an unnecessary and burdensome last-minute worry brought on by unthinking politicians pandering to the tea party. Such a deep cut would have had the worst effect on the highest-need areas in the Northeast. Low-income families who depend upon public transportation for work, school and basic everyday needs would have been left with fewer options. It was a reckless bill.
Passage of such an amendment would have been a disaster for countless New Yorkers. According to NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel, “To have lost this funding would have been devastating to our transit operations.”
That devastation would have been to the tune of more than $20 million over the six-year life of the transportation bill, amounting to a 25 percent cut. The fiscal year-end consolidated NFTA budget is $215.2 million.
The absence of funding would have potentially amounted to higher fares and lower service. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., created this legislation that would have spread the wealth around evenly, essentially defeating the purpose of the program specifically meant for high-density states.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., asked to be on the conference committee, one of eight people deciding this issue, and made it clear that his highest priority was restoring the Northeast funding. Moreover, he would oppose the bill if the others didn’t. This was a grab by the House. Schumer, whose mentor, the late Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, told him to protect the New York highway and transit funding, grabbed back.
In fairness to Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Chris Collins, R-Clarence, this near atrocity never really got a hearing and passed by a voice vote. Both provided bipartisan assistance in getting it back as the House and Senate reconciled their bills.
The NFTA’s concerns stood out for the senior senator, among them a possible annual reduction of $3.6 million, increased Metro Rail ridership because of downtown and waterfront development and plans to expand to the University at Buffalo campus in Amherst, the latter difficult to do with a large cut.
The authority chief appropriately credited Schumer with a “herculean effort” in preserving the funding. The entire region is breathing a lot easier.