Paterson Abandons Long-Term MTA Financing Effort

We’re getting dangerously close to transit Armageddon.

Seeking a quick resolution to the MTA funding crisis, Governor Paterson lobbied over the weekend to get a Band-aid fix through the State Senate. The problem is, Paterson’s plan provides no resolution at all. Fundamental details of the proposal are still sketchy, even as the governor pushes for a vote as soon as today, but there’s no doubt that the numbers don’t add up to a healthy transit system. Consider:

By pushing for a stopgap measure on the Senate Democrats’ terms, Paterson has effectively abandoned the framework laid out by the Ravitch Commission. His proposal does not share the funding burden equitably — car commuters pay nothing to keep congestion-busting trains and buses running. Nor does it address long-term funding needs, risking system-wide decline by leaving even routine maintenance unpaid for.

Observers are in the dark about the most basic aspects of the governor’s proposal, like how much it would raise in total. Does the plan still fund upstate roads and bridges with a surcharge on New York City cab fares? Will service cuts still be necessary even if this plan passes? It’s hard to tell when all the discussions take place behind closed doors.

Advocates aren’t pleased. The Empire State Transportation Alliance — a coalition representing business, labor, and environmental groups — released a statement yesterday stressing the importance of funding the MTA capital plan now, not just passing a temporary fix. 

"In light of what has transpired as well as what has failed to happen to date, we have little confidence that the Governor and Legislature will be able to come together to address the urgent capital needs of the MTA once such a band-aid is applied," said ESTA co-chair Kevin Corbett in a statement.

Delaying action on the capital plan will also affect transit service down the line, because debt payments come out of the MTA’s operating budget. "The two are very closely related," RPA’s Neysa Pranger told Streetsblog. "A good part of the reason they’re in the operating deficit now is that they had to borrow to pay for the capital plan. By 2012, debt service will eat up 20 percent of the MTA’s operating budget. If you don’t do the capital piece now, you run the risk of driving the system into the ground, or the MTA continues to borrow a lot of money which puts additional pressure on fares and service. It’s all part of the same picture."

Politically, passing a sound plan will only get tougher from here on out, as the 2010 elections draw closer. "The MTA will be very constrained by the election cycle," said Pranger, noting that the agency will soon have another budget shortfall on its hands, but the money to cover it probably won’t come from fare hikes. "It’s happened before, Pataki would give the MTA these one-shots — payments out of the general fund. The legislature has got to be wary of the fuzzy math right now, and demand some answers about where the money’s going, before voting on anything."

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Bloomberg: MTA Plan Must Include Funding for Capital Projects

|
The mayor’s office just released a statement insisting that the MTA financing plan address the transit system’s long-term needs: As discussions for a permanent funding plan for the MTA continue, stop-gap measures that kick the big problems down the road must be rejected. For any plan to truly meet the needs of the metropolitan region’s […]

Albany Chaos Open Thread

|
Photo: Times-Union With Governor Paterson’s political career flaming out in spectacular fashion, speculation is rampant that he might step down any day, thrusting Richard Ravitch into New York state’s executive office. Ravitch would inherit a budget crisis of epic proportions and a state capital that was already in utter disarray. The potential succession would also […]

Albany and City Hall Slouch Toward MTA Endgame

|
Let’s recap the last week of the MTA funding saga. On Monday, Malcolm Smith and the Senate Democrats introduced a "conversation starter" bill that had already been lambasted as insufficient and backwards. On Tuesday, the MTA finance committee announced that revenues from taxes and fares have plummeted deeper than expected, turning the $1.2 billion doomsday […]

Fare Hike Four to Paterson: Not So Fast

|
In case you’ve forgotten who’s in charge these days, Governor Paterson’s nomination of Jay Walder to succeed Lee Sander as MTA chief was quickly met with a joint statement from Malcolm Smith, John Sampson, and Fare Hike Four members Pedro Espada and Carl Kruger. In the interest of "transparency and accountability," the senators say they […]