Council Finance Chair Vows to Keep an Eye on State Contribution to MTA

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland offered cautious optimism about the deal to fund the MTA's capital plan—but also promised oversight.

City Council Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras (William Alatriste/New York City Council)
City Council Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (William Alatriste/New York City Council)

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chairwoman of the finance committee, offered cautious optimism about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s deal with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to fund the MTA’s $26.1 billion capital plan—but also promised oversight of it during remarks to the Citizens Budget Commission this morning.

“The MTA deal is something that has been negotiated very recently. We have yet to get all the details,” Ms. Ferreras-Copeland said in response to a question at the breakfast meeting. “It was an example where the mayor and the governor actually worked together, and I think when they work together all New York City residents benefit.”

The deal saw Mr. de Blasio agree to pay $2.5 billion into the capital plan over the next five years—less than the $3.2 billion the MTA Chairman Thoma Prendergast asked for on the eve of the mayor’s executive budget announcement, but more than the $657 million the city was planning on spending. The state will guarantee $8.3 billion in funding. The state promised not to divert the money elsewhere, following Mr. de Blasio’s complaints that the governor had raided the capital plan in the past.

Ms. Ferreras-Copeland said she thought the outlines of the deal were better than the governor’s original proposal to kick in $3.2 billion.

“We fought back and felt that was too high. This is still historic contributions to our very—I don’t want to say weak, but definitely frail infrastructure that we have in our system—so at an approximately 8 percent contribution, this Council feels very confident that that is more appropriate.”

 But the councilwoman—who spent much of her presentation pointing to the her goals for saving money in budget reserves to cushion the city for future economic downturns—said she was still awaiting more details on the plan, which she expected would take some time.

“The commitment that the mayor has identified is something that we are currently trying to figure out, and he has to propose,” Ms. Ferreras-Copeland said. “Obviously we dont expect it in this budget [modification] for the November plan, it will probably be moreso reflected in the [fiscal year 2016] when we see some of the capital adjustments.”

After the hearing, Ms. Ferreras-Copeland said she expected the city to wait to see what winds up in the state budget—and said she hoped Mr. Cuomo kept his promise to not use the city’s contribution for anything besides the MTA.

“I think it is important for him to keep his commitment to all residents of New York State and in particular those of New York City, so I’m confident that will be the case,” Ms. Ferreras-Copeland said. “But we will all be vigilant—and I will be the first one to say, ‘hey, remember this commitment back in 2015?”

The capital projects will be spread over several years, Ms. Ferreras-Copeland noted, so the first question isn’t whether the money will be diverted—it’s whether it will be delivered in the first place.

“First we just need to make sure that they put it in the state budget,” Ms. Ferreras-Copeland said. “So before he’s even questioned whether he’ll raid it or not, I think we just need to make sure the money is in there.”

But not all of Ms. Ferreras-Copeland desire for oversight was aimed at the governor. She also touched on the Council’s role as a foil for the mayor in the budget process, and while she echoed Mr. de Blasio’s goals of using the budget to reduce inequality, she also positioned herself as focused on building reserves and ensuring savings were actually materializing. To that end, she criticized the mayor’s administration for eliminating the use of budget PEGs, or programs to eliminate gaps, which required guaranteed savings from city agencies—saying it was “important to never eliminate any tools that will make our budget more efficient.” Instead of PEGs, the mayor’s office sent letters to agencies directing them to find savings where they could.

“What the PEGs allowed for, from the Council perspective, is it established a program that we could really follow and see if those efficiencies were really met,” she said. “With the lack of the PEG, it doesn’t allow us to do that.”

Mr. de Blasio’s office noted the city provides a tracker for planned cost savings, which are outlined in the city’s savings plan.

“The City’s budget takes a cautious approach focused on targeted investments and aggressive savings, as detailed in the Citywide Savings Program this spring and OLR’s quarterly health savings reports. Between these unprecedented savings and boosted reserves, the City is on strong, prudent financial footing – as fiscal monitors and rating agencies continue to affirm.”

Council Finance Chair Vows to Keep an Eye on State Contribution to MTA