IN AN AGE of public-sector cuts and massive budget deficits—the city and the state are projected to face a total gap of about $40 billion in the next two and a half years—the Port Authority is doing rather well for itself.
Last month, the agency reported that it would see a major surplus, $297 million, in operating revenues for 2008. In 2009, revenues are predicted to rise again, with an extra $110 million in revenues expected over 2008, according to the agency’s budget.
Such figures speak not so much to efficient management—critics for years regarded the Port Authority as a political patronage dumping ground, and it pays some of the highest salaries in state government—but rather are a result of the agency’s financial structure, which does not rely on volatile income streams like income tax. The Port Authority owns the area’s airports and therefore benefits from the $2 billion in landing fees and other income associated with aviation, a revenue stream that is projected to increase next year. The amount of toll-paying vehicles at crossing points from the Holland Tunnel to the George Washington Bridge, too, was projected to see only a relatively small drop-off in 2008.
But all is relative, and regardless of how much better the Port Authority is doing than other governments or authorities, a drop in expected revenues would strain resources and could affect the size of the agency’s $29.5 billion 10-year plan.
“We did take a financial hit both in terms of forecast and revenues,” Mr. Ward, the authority’s executive director, said Tuesday.
On top of this is more than $2 billion in overruns at the World Trade Center site. The Port Authority’s 2009 budget put all the various components overseen by it as costing a total of $10.85 billion, compared with the $8.4 billion that was allocated in 2007 in its capital plan.
The World Trade Center development’s deficit, individuals on the New Jersey side of the Port Authority have argued, should be closed by spending New York–dedicated funds. Governor Corzine, through a spokesman, has forcefully insisted that the development’s deficits not interfere with the agency’s capital plan.
Thus it seems an open question whether the Port Authority would be able to put the $2 billion toward any other project, given that something such as Moynihan Station would require expanding or stretching out the current Port Authority capital plan.
Mr. Ward, an appointee of Governor Paterson, has told advocates of Moynihan Station that he is pushing for the authority to move the project forward; and Mr. Paterson has spoken out in favor of it, though he has held back from issuing any final decision on the matter.
Mr. Ward said it would indeed be possible to fit more projects, Moynihan Station included, into the Port Authority’s existing capital plan, given that many initiatives do not need all their expenses paid within the capital plan’s 10-year time horizon.
“As the Port Authority has demonstrated before, our financial capacity can be managed within a 10-year, $29 billion plan to accommodate a significant project, whether it is Moynihan or some other critical transportation initiative,” he said. “But, obviously, any project needs to be considered within the context of downtown as well.”
Adding Moynihan Station into the mix would surely have the backing of some transit advocates and many preservation groups who have pushed for the project.
Whether Governor Paterson and, ultimately, the full Port Authority board agree, time will tell.
Back in September, the governor pledged a report on Moynihan Station within weeks, though no report ever publicly materialized and he has remained mostly mum on the topic ever since.
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