State Sen. Andrew Lanza Defends Stance on MTA Rescue

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State Senator Andrew Lanza called this afternoon in response to yesterday’s post about his MTA rescue stance. He first took issue with the characterization of Senate Republicans as "refusing to budge" on a transit funding plan, saying that his conference has effectively been shut out of the process. "If they wanted to come forward with an MTA rescue package," he said of the Democratic leadership, "there’s not a thing a Republican can do."

I agreed that the Democratic majority shoulders most of the responsibility for the current impasse, but when I suggested that he could have stepped forward to support the Ravitch plan, Lanza disputed the implication that he should be asked to support a pre-existing solution and reiterated his opposition to a payroll tax.

We had a long exchange about the root of the MTA’s financial troubles, which I’ll try to summarize as concisely as possible with minimal editorial comment.

He started by claiming that his criticism of the MTA is "not just bashing."

"The MTA comes forward every year almost in shock as to their budget
situation," he said. "They have proven that
they don’t have a handle on their own finances." I argued that this was due mainly to the volatility of their current revenue streams, which the Ravitch plan would help to address.

Lanza rebutted with a call for transparency and accountability. "They do not present documents in a way according
to generally accepted accounting principles," he said. "A rescue plan means that taxpayers pony up. I think it’s fair to ask,
"What are you doing with the money?’" (I’m not a CPA, but the Deloitte and Touche staffers who went over the most recent MTA financial statement available online [page 3 of this PDF] say that their review, while not rising to the level of an audit, found it to be "in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.")

I asked about the imminent downgrading of the MTA’s bond rating. That’s going to cost taxpayers — and they’ll only get higher debt payments out of it, not better transit service — so why not incorporate any transparency reform into the plan itself, instead of holding a rescue hostage to the precondition of a forensic audit? Lanza suggested that this would delay the changes he wants to see. "We always say transparency and accountability would be nice, but we never do anything about it."

What stuck with me more than anything was Lanza’s criticism of the Democratic leadership. By blaming Republicans, he said, "all they’re looking for is political cover." Fair enough, but is anyone in Albany looking for something better?

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