Let’s Hear More About All the Money Cuomo Wastes on Not Fixing the Subways

De Blasio's proposal for a millionaires tax to fund transit may or may not win him some short-term political points, but it's definitely muddling the message that voters need to hear: Governor Cuomo runs the subways and should pay for fixing them.

Only the man on the right is in charge of the subways. Photo: NY Governor's Office/Flickr
Only the man on the right is in charge of the subways. Photo: NY Governor's Office/Flickr

For about a week back in July, there was a significant overlap between Mayor de Blasio’s public message on transit and the real-world policy reforms necessary to turn around New York City’s subways and buses. The message was simple: It’s up to Governor Cuomo, not the city, to fix transit and get his own house in order at the MTA.

Whatever political advantage de Blasio saw in this position, it had the benefit of being substantively true. Power over MTA operations, capital construction practices, and spending priorities is vested in the governor, not the mayor. No amount of money from the city is going to change that.

De Blasio was saying what New York City voters need to hear: If you want good transit service, demand better management from Cuomo and his appointees at the MTA. But now the mayor’s message has changed.

De Blasio held a huge press event this morning to officially announce his proposal to fund transit by raising income taxes on city residents earning more than $500,000 a year. The plan needs approval in Albany, and much like de Blasio’s proposed mansion tax, political observers expect it to be DOA in the State Senate.

We’re no longer in that sweet spot where the mayor’s political instincts align with good outcomes for transit riders. We’re back to empty posturing, with Cuomo and de Blasio ping-ponging back and forth over their own proposals to pay for the MTA, a debate that illuminates very little about what’s wrong with the transit system and how to fix it.

Cuomo’s MTA chief, Joe Lhota, wasted no time over the weekend pointing out that his “emergency plan” to improve subway reliability can’t wait for a bill to clear the state legislature. He’s right, insofar as a millionaires tax isn’t going to pay for immediately staffing up to prevent delays, as called for in the MTA’s plan. But the whole premise that Cuomo needs $450 million from the city and can’t pay for the emergency measures with state resources is absurd.

Consider all the state money Cuomo has sloshing around for other infrastructure initiatives that are far less pressing than reliable New York City transit service:

Meanwhile, direct state support for the MTA is almost nil. And this list doesn’t even touch on sky-high MTA capital costs that routinely consume at least two or three times as much money as comparable transit agencies spend on comparable projects.

Not all of this spending is slated for 2017 (though much of it is), but there’s no doubt that Cuomo has enough slack to pay for the most important transportation system in the state, if he wants to.

There was never any need for the governor to turn a full-blown transit crisis into another occasion to pummel his political rival de Blasio. The mayor was on the right track last month — this is Cuomo’s mess, and Cuomo needs to fix it himself.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I want to hear more about the share of the TBTA toll surplus going to the subways vs. commuter rail. If it is below 50 percent, I want to know why and how this is possible.

  • The best thing to do with de Blasio’s tax proposal is ignore it. We give it too much credit to assume it will come close to happening or will end up being something the Legislature or Governor will want to keep talking about in a week.

    It is frankly outrageous that:
    * Few other downstate pols will even TALK about the Governor’s responsibilities here
    * Most NYC residents still believe the mayor has “some responsibility” over the subways
    * Nobody seems to know that city residents already pay sufficient tax to keep the subway rolling
    * Nobody wants any responsibility for the chaos of public misinformation or political backroom deals or operational collapse
    * There is dead quiet from City Hall or the Council about extensive bus improvements
    * The L train will go down in a year and a half while this is all still going on
    * We are, in the long run, pushing residents toward even a higher share of car usage in NYC

  • com63

    What was the final tally on removing toll plazas and implementing electronic tolling? Wasn’t that a huge number as well?

  • redbike

    While deBlasio’s proposed surtax on NYC’s highest income earners has little merit, his attempt (reiterated in the NYTimes article you link) to revivify his so-called “mansion tax” could, with just a bit of tweaking, benefit NYC.

    Tweaking the “mansion tax”: raise real estate tax on high-value NYC residences, but include an offsetting credit against NYS / NYC income tax. The folks who get socked are those who don’t file and pay NYS / NYC income tax. A local income tax surcharge merely encourages those with high incomes to establish residence and file and pay income taxes (if any) elsewhere. But you can’t move real estate elsewhere. (I didn’t invent this, and I don’t remember who did. Blame me if you don’t like it, but if you like it, someone else gets the credit.)

    But I certainly don’t see either a surtax on NYC’s highest income earners or a “mansion tax” as the best source for additional transit funding. I don’t know what will persuade Cuomo and deBlasio of the merits of some flavor of congestion pricing — including tolling all the currently free East and Harlem River bridges — but congestion pricing is the alternative I support.

  • Make no mistake, this is political gamesmanship and pandering. Neither Motorhead Cuomo or Workout Y de Blasio give a damn about the subways.

    Still, give Cuomo credit for being better at this. Now he says he’s open to congestion pricing plans. Meanwhile de Blasio keeps pretending that those plans have no traction in Albany. Or maybe he isn’t pretending and truly is that dense.