We just got our first indication of how Conductor Cuomo might feel about raising new revenues for the M.T.A., and it’s not promising.
In our story this week about the governor taking the controls at the M.T.A., one of the main questions was whether the Cuomo administration will start shoveling more coal into the agency’s sputtering engine.
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.
That message reverberated today, when the M.T.A. released its new capital budget, which covers mega-projects, maintenance and new trains and buses for the next three years. There will be $6.9 billion in new bonds floated to cover a $9 billion shortfall—resulting in part from the non-passage of congestion pricing and shortfalls in the payroll tax. The bonds will be backed by two fare increases of 7.5 percent in 2013 and 2015. There will not be any new revenue raised, at least none yet, to help offset the cost to riders.
This is what transit advocates have been counting on, and while they applauded the new measures for helping to stabilize the M.T.A.’s finances, they were not pleased with the lack of supplemental revenue. Citizens Budget Commission president Carol Kellerman called on “elected officials” in a statement to address the problem:
The new proposal is better than doing nothing to meet the essential infrastructure needs of mass transit. But it has a critical flaw—it proposes to borrow billions without presenting a corresponding plan for new revenues to match the increased long-run debt service burden.
Mo Kinberg of Transportation Alternatives was more direct:
It’s no secret that New Yorkers aren’t happy with the way things are going for public transit. People are quick to blame the MTA but we need solutions, not scapegoating. When school funding is slashed, nobody blames the teachers for overcrowded classrooms and outdated textbooks. People, rightfully, point a finger at the real culprits—the officials who chose to defund a public necessity.
Streetsblog leaves responsibility squarely at the administration’s lead-footed feet:
Let’s be clear. When it comes to transit funding, the choice Albany faces right now is not between “new taxes” and “no new taxes.” Cuomo and the legislature could have decided to design a more functional transportation system, where motorists pay for the infrastructure they use and contribute to the transit system that keeps roads passable, where bus riders don’t get bogged down in so much traffic, and where transit is funded properly. Instead they chose to let the dysfunction on the streets continue and saddle transit riders with a future of higher fares.
The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Perhaps he was too busy giving driving lessons.