Transit Riders: The MTA Can’t Run on Cuomo’s IOUs

Riders Alliance organizer Masha Burina speaking outside the Bowling Green subway station this morning. Photo: David Meyer

Straphangers can’t pay the MTA with an IOU, so why should Governor Andrew Cuomo get away with it?

That’s the message Riders Alliance members brought to the MTA board meeting this morning. After trying and failing to swipe into the Bowling Green subway station with a giant “IOU” Metrocard, the group proceeded to MTA headquarters.

In October, Cuomo committed to contribute $7.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year capital program on top of $1 billion provided in last year’s budget. This year’s budget, however, includes zero dollars for the capital plan (but somehow musters $3.4 billion for roads). Instead, Cuomo’s proposal makes a vague gesture to provide that money sometime in the future — once the MTA has exhausted all other funding sources.

“The machine wouldn’t take it, the agent wouldn’t take, and the turnstile wouldn’t take it,” Riders Alliance member Macartney Morris told the board. “If I can’t use an IOU, Governor Cuomo shouldn’t either.”

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers’ Campaign called Cuomo’s funding scheme “magical” and questioned the sincerity of the governor’s commitment. “It’s like in one of those fairy tales, you know, ‘I’ll give you the money, but first go pick up a clover, and then some blonde hair, and then magic potion,’” he said. “Only for you, the MTA, it’s, ‘First go out and spend $100 million, and then buy a big building — two big buildings, three big buildings — sell them, then go charge your customers $6 billion.’ This is not a good IOU for you or the public.”

Later in the meeting, board member Jeffrey A. Kay echoed advocates’ concerns. “We’re now at the end of March. We’ve been talking about this capital plan for six months,” he told MTA Chair Tom Prendergast. “I really do hope that Albany comes to turns, passes our Capital Plan Review Board package that we sent up, and hopefully there really is money we can point to.”

Prendergast, a Cuomo appointee, brushed off the criticism. “Irrespective of what happens with the full funding, some aspects of where we’re at with this program are not different from the last in the sense that the last time we had a five-year program approved, we had funding certain for two years [and] had to go back for three.”

Last month, 36 members of the assembly signed onto a letter from Brooklyn rep Jim Brennan calling on the governor to provide $1.825 billion annually over the next five years in order to fulfill his commitment. The budget proposal from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, which will be the basis of negotiations with Cuomo and the State Senate, includes $7.5 billion for the capital program.

  • J

    Prendergast is way more concerned with defending Cuomo than he is for actually running a transit agency. Shameful.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Last month, 36 members of the assembly signed onto a letter from Brooklyn rep Jim Brennan calling on the governor to provide $1.825 billion annually over the next five years in order to fulfill his commitment.”

    I know he lives in Chappaqua, but I don’t think Cuomo has that kind of money.

    Perhaps Brennan means that Cuomo should tell the rest of us in what way we will have to pay up? To make up for the fact that all the existing revenues are being sucked into the past.

    I’d like to see those 36 members come up with suggestions. I already have. As I recall, the only politician to do so since the FIRST Cuomo ran into a bunch of politicians standing on the Brooklyn Bridge opposing congestion pricing.

    But if you don’t want 30 years of revenues to be spent in just three years, congestion pricing is just the start.

  • Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr.

    Larry, let’s be realistic and serious – The MTA 2015-2019 Capital Plan was not
    approved by the Capital Program Review Board for the following reasons,
    in which the MTA still needs $7.3B for their program that was unfunded:
    1) The MOVE NY Fair Tolling Plan and other forms of congestion pricing
    in NYC are out of the question because many elected officials and their
    constituents in the outer boroughs are firmly opposed these, due to the
    fact that some people have no other transportation options except
    driving a motorized vehicle point a to point b and they are the part of
    the working class; 2) The need for increased taxes in the MTA region are
    out of the question because both Governor Andrew Cuomo and the
    Republican Led State Senate are firmly opposed these; 3) The need for
    kicking the can down the road or playing political football by putting
    is now out of the question because remember, by June 30 of this year,
    the MTA are running out of their own money for not only this capital
    plan, but for billions upon billions of dollars in deferred maintenance
    via the state of good repair; 4) Borrow the $7.3B via bonds, which could
    lead to 7.3% fare and toll hikes on the top of the biennial 4% fare and
    toll hikes for bridges, tunnels, subways, buses and commuter rail; 5) A
    major dispute between Upstate New York, where they needed $22B for road
    and bridge maintenance, and Downstate New York, where they need $7.3B
    for mass transit maintenance; and 6) It is not only either a local,
    city, or state issue, but also a national issue – look at what’s going
    on in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. (with the Metro once was
    shutting down for a day), Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco (with BART was
    suffering major delays), and Los Angeles, where dozens upon billions of
    dollars in deferred maintenance are needed to be funded. Disclaimer: I
    am a Riders Alliance Member who is with many of my brethren during the
    MTA Board Meeting on that day. Note: Before you criticize me, take
    yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: Is NYC will have a next fiscal
    crisis because of this? And don’t mention about fare evasion by the
    riders or the taxpayers who are footed the bill for this: That is the
    least of our problems.

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