Cuomo’s Brazen Politicization of the MTA

On Friday, MTA Chair Tom Prendergast used the occasion of a G train derailment to badger Bill de Blasio about upping the city’s contribution to the MTA capital program. His statement resembled the reaction from the TWU, beneficiaries of generous contract terms bestowed by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year. Prendergast delivered the same message on Sunday at the opening of the 7 train station on the far West Side.

Photo: Marc A. Hermann for MTA/Flickr

It’s all part of Team Cuomo’s effort to dodge responsibility for the capital program. The governor has done his part by promising to fill most of the gap, the message goes, and now City Hall needs to step up.

The thing is, Cuomo has never explained exactly how he’ll close the gap, and any concrete proposal won’t be public until next year. You just have to trust him.

So why is it incumbent on de Blasio to commit funds to the MTA before Cuomo offers any specifics of his own? Who cares! The point is that in the meantime, while we’re waiting for details from the governor, Cuomo can use his surrogates at the MTA to bludgeon the mayor.

For anyone paying attention, the whole episode this weekend was just more proof that the MTA and Prendergast answer to Cuomo. (Note that the MTA chair never calls the governor to account. When Cuomo set up a recurring $30 million annual raid of the MTA operating budget, Prendergast said that was fine because the agency’s “needs are being met.”)

There’s nothing especially surprising about an appointee like Prendergast loyally serving the politician who selected him. But it’s jarring when the MTA chair is beholden to a governor with so little interest in improving the transit system and so much fervor for humiliating rivals.

  • Simon Phearson

    What struck me about Prendergast’s statement is that it was so brazenly dishonest. It portrayed the city’s agreed contribution of some half-billion dollars as being in response to Cuomo’s insistence that the city cough up more than $3 billion, when the $3 billion demand in fact came after a whole process where the MTA asked for, and the city granted, much smaller amounts. There was also the lie about not being able to spend money on maintaining the G tracks because the 2015-2019 capital plan remains incompletely funded, despite (as you’ve noted) Cuomo’s vagueness over where he’d get the money, and earlier assurances that the failure to tie up the plan on time wouldn’t have any implications for current system maintenance (back when Cuomo decided to whiff it until the next session).

    Cuomo must have some idea of where he’s going to get the $8 billion. He must be looking for a politically advantageous opportunity to let the rest of us know – thereby prolonging uncertainty and giving the mayor no reason to get serious about it.

  • Bolwerk

    Cuomo completely escapes scrutiny in the mainstream press, while de Blasio gets the blame for every fuckup going back to the Giuliani era. Well, except the popular fuckups, like Bratton, which he still doesn’t get credit for.

    Maybe Cuomo will raise fares to $4.75. I doubt he’ll have a good idea, like labor reform or congestion pricing.

  • Anonymous

    ““Our 2015-19 Capital Program allocates $927.5 million for repairing and rebuilding subway line structures, including bench walls such as the one involved in last night’s derailment.”

    Instead of arguing about it, Prendergast should simply make public the document that states that, if the 2015-2019 Capital Program was fully funded on January 1, 2015, the bench wall would have already been scheduled to be repaired in time before the derailment happened, and the derailment thus avoided. But there is probably no such document, and even if there was it would indict Cuomo as much as de Blasio. I wonder if the bench wall was even marked as a serious defect in any internal database.

    In any case, it’s well known that many capital projects are delayed, often by years, and often for legitimate reasons (like the need to be open for moving passengers, with work done only in the off hours). So even if a fully-funded Capital Program started on time, the bench wall would have still gone unrepaired for months or years. There are still projects being worked on today that were funded in the 90’s and 2000’s. At the current pace of work – and given the current extreme constraints on when to do the work, how much labor is available, and how much that labor costs – it’s basically impossible to patch the Titanic faster than its rate of sinking.

  • Mark Walker

    He will not fund the system except through debt. Future generations will look at pie charts showing how the MTA spends money. Smaller and smaller slices will go to operations and rebuilding, larger and larger slices to debt. To really educate the public about how this came to be, the debt slices should be labeled with the names of neglectful governors. I predict the one labeled “Cuomo” will be the largest.

  • Larry Littlefield

    One of three things is true:

    1) Generation Greed has done so much financial damage, and both Cuomo and DeBlasio are so determined to pander to other constituencies to advance their careers, that they have concluded that the decline to the point of collapse of the transit system is inevitable. They are sparring over who will get the blame: Cuomo — blame the city. DeBlasio — blame the feds.

    2) Generation Greed has done so much financial damage that preventing the decline to the point of collapse of the transit system can only be prevented by severe pain to riders, contractors, unions, taxpayers, and toll payers. They want someone else to be blamed for those sacrifices.

    3) Since Generation Greed had been robbing the future, they want to keep robbing it, making things even worse in the future but avoiding any consequences in the present. They know the system won’t fall apart overnight, and the debt and pension death spiral only bleeds people a little at a time.

    May I point out that if Cuomo’s “state contribution” is just more debt to make future generations even worse off (and NYC is where those future generations are living), the add debt plan matches what some here want. I’m opposed. I don’t want what has happened, and is happening, covered up anymore. I want it out in the open.

  • Bolwerk

    #2 and #3 are both sort of true, and the method has a name: “austerity.” It is by avoiding financing replacement of infrastructure at all, using the excuse that it’s too expensive, that the future is wrecked, not simply by borrowing to finance it.

  • Bolwerk

    Not even the worst thing. Now is a good time to borrow. Actually, the past 7 years or so. We have record low interest rates.

    The truly important thing is to control costs of the infrastructure itself up front. Over-utilization of labor? Bad work rules? Inflated construction costs? Most people who worry about debt don’t blink about real problems.

  • neroden

    Cuomo’s also just a jerk. And quite stupid.

  • neroden

    Cuomo’s approval ratings keep sinking. Even with the press in the tank for Cuomo as vs. de Blasio, Cuomo is just as unpopular as de Blasio.

  • neroden

    Cuomo does not necessarily have any idea what he’s doing. He appears to be stupid.