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Albany Reform

Russianoff and Schneiderman Map the MTA’s Road to ‘Ruin’

In today's Daily News, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign and State Senator Eric Schneiderman examine 337927939_d3cd0561d3.jpghow the MTA ended up the most debt-ridden transit system in the United States, and urge state leaders to chart a new course.

The governor must prevent next year's state budget from being a carbon copy of the budgets offered by his predecessor, which drove the Metropolitan Transportation Authority more deeply into debt than any transit system in U.S. history. But he can only do this if the MTA first commits to delaying all proposed fare hikes until after the 2008 state budget is put to bed in April.

Most straphangers will remember the chants of elected officials railing helplessly against the MTA every time the authority proposed to raise fares or cut service. What they may not remember is that, year after year, the Pataki administration submitted - and the Legislature passed - budgets that decimated the MTA's funding.

In 1982, the MTA started a series of five-year capital programs to restore our regional transit system to a state of good repair. We are now enjoying the fruits of these investments: a system that is in dramatically better shape than it was at the beginning of the 1980s, with ridership at a 35-year high. But the state did not maintain its commitment. It cut its share of the system's capital program from 19.6% in the MTA's 1982-86 plan, to 10.8% in the 1987-91 plan, to less than 1% during calendar years 1992 through 1999. The state provided zero direct funding for the 2000-04 capital plan.

That abandonment forced the authority to steadily increase its reliance on debt to finance repairs and improvements. Over 60% of the 2000-04 plan was financed with debt, up from about 40% for the previous plan.

As a result, the MTA is now "in hock" for $23 billion, Russianoff and Schneiderman write. They say freezing the base fare at $2 is "a first step" toward shifting reliance from MTA customers to the state for support.

Spitzer has a lot on his plate, but ending Albany's systemic abuse of our 7.5 million straphangers should be at or near the top of the pile. He must work with the Legislature and the MTA board, both to avoid a fare hike in 2008 and to set a new agenda for our state's mass transit program - an agenda that breaks with the unsustainable and inexcusable policies of the last 12 years.

Photo: peterkreder/Flickr

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