Today’s news:

NY Sens. push Obama to sign law protecting transit money

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel speaks during a news conference in February to denounce a plan to stop automatic grants for the MTA. Rangel is surrounded by (l.-r.) U.S. Reps. Joseph Crowley and Carolyn Maloney, MTA Chair Joseph Lhota and U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler.
TimesLedger Newspapers

President Barack Obama has signed into law legislation protecting hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for New York City’s mass transit system, which U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called “the city’s lifeblood.”

Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who fought against attempts to severely cut mass transit funds, announced passage of their transit rescue legislation last week.

The legislators also said they had negotiated some $200 million for transit in New York.

“Mass transit is the lifeblood of New York, Long Island and Westchester, but if the House of Representatives had their way, straphangers would have been left on the platform with no train in sight,” Schumer said. “I’m pleased that we were able to stop this wrong-headed plan dead in its tracks, which was designed to take away needed funding for our subways, commuter rails and buses.”

“This was a hard-fought victory for millions of New York residents who commute to work every day using mass transit,” Gillibrand said.

New York congressional members had sounded an early alarm at a news conference last winter at Grand Central Terminal.

“This is a bill aimed like a dagger at the heart of cities and suburban areas,” said U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan).

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said at the Grand Central news conference “what the Republicans are trying to do would cost New York City $1.7 billion. Quite literally this will massacre our mass transit system.”

Earlier this year the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles the financial portion of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization legislation, passed legislation that would abolish the Mass Transit Account, remove fuel tax funds for mass transit and other transportation projects that reduce congestion or improve air quality and would create a new Transportation Alternatives Account, making these programs subject to the annual appropriations process.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also made several attempts to slash funding procedures for public transportation programs by as much as 37 percent.

Schumer and Gillibrand had urged members of the Conference Committee to preserve the procedures.

They announced they were also able to restore the dedicated transit fund system, in which transit money is automatically sent to mass transit systems such as New York City’s. The House proposal would have abolished automatic transit payments and forced transit proponent legislators to fight annually in Congress for such money with other lawmakers seeking more funds for highways.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the House of Representatives proposal to remove hundreds of millions from mass transit “the worst transportation plan I have ever seen.”

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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