Will Conductor Cuomo Put the M.T.A. On Track?

Reluctant governor thrust into M.T.A. vacuum, wonks writhe with anticipation; next stop: a fight grittier than gay marriage

Richard Ravitch, the former lieutenant governor once charged with rescuing the M.T.A. in the 1980s, told The Observer that the idea that the authority needs to be torn down and rebuilt was “dumb as shit.” Instead, it’s a matter of approach. “It all depends on what you define as broken,” Mr. Ravitch said. “The M.T.A. isn’t broken. It’s just facing a lot of challenges, and it will always face a lot of challenges. In a way, that’s how it was set up.”

So how can the governor tackle those challenges, many of which are fiscal? The M.T.A. faces a $9 billion hole in its five-year capital budget that must be addressed by the start of next year. Between now and then, the agency must negotiate a new contract with the union representing most of its workers. Both will be expensive propositions, and while the Cuomo administration has shown an ability to broker compromise in the Legislature, taxes or any other revenue increases have been antithetical to that platform—that balanced budget allowed the millionaire’s tax to expire at the same time it cut $100 million from the M.T.A. Gay marriage is free, mass transit is not.

“The message from Andrew has been that revenues are hard to come by,” Mr. Brodsky said.

The first indication of the governor’s position, barring an unexpected address on a mass transit revolution, will come from who he appoints to run the agency. “Some governors want to be hands on and in control and take credit and blame for whatever happens at the M.T.A,” Mr. Ravitch said. “Other people are delighted to have someone who is a reputable, well-regarded professional and independent.”

Still, the governor is on a political roll. “It has wetted his appetite for more victories,” said one Democratic operative, who said that in addition to Medicaid and the Port Authority, the administration is looking very closely at the M.T.A. for an overhaul. “It would be quite the feather in his cap.”

mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC