Dear Keith Olbermann: You’re Not Helping

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Count Keith Olbermann among the otherwise well-informed New Yorkers who don’t have a clue when it comes to what’s happening with the MTA.

Giving transit chief Jay Walder the "Worst Person in the World" treatment last night, the "Countdown" host rattled off a list of service cuts and other measures approved yesterday before concluding as follows:

"All this is the result of the shocking, total surprise budget shortfall that the MTA has had every 18 months or so for about the last four decades. The latest: $400 million they suddenly discovered last week they just didn’t have. I know this is a local thing but this has been going on since I was a kid. It is the biggest running scam in this town since they caught Boss Tweed."

Olbermann or his producers must be aware that Walder is new to his MTA post, as he is offhandedly referred to as "this month’s chairman." Which makes it even more surprising how widely this misses the mark. It’s not clear what exactly he means by "biggest running scam in this town," but since Olbermann singled out Jay Walder for a public flogging — and not Sheldon Silver, Carl Kruger, Pedro Espada, Richard Brodsky, or any of the myriad electeds who have continually shortchanged transit for, yes, decades — it’s obvious that he buys into the fiction that every MTA crisis is of its own making.

Here’s the reality of the latest "total surprise budget shortfall":

  • The state legislature took $143 million from the MTA to plug its own budget hole.
  • The funding solution that Albany promised would maintain service didn’t deliver the revenue that the state projected.
  • New York State cut funding to help get kids to school by nearly 90 percent. We’re pretty much the only place in America where local government doesn’t cover that.

To paraphrase Don Imus: Keith, we like you. But please do your fellow New Yorkers a favor. Read up, then train your ire on those who actually deserve it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Read up, then train your ire on those who actually deserve it.”

    You mean the senior citizens who retired early with rich pensions after limited employee contributions? The riders who got those fare breaks all those years? The other interests that got all the funding increases and tax breaks that offset city and state cuts in MTA subsidies? The contractors who earned big bucks as the cost of MTA projects soared? The additional administrative staff? The Wall Street firms that made profits on all those bonds — and got bigger bonuses for variable rate time bombs?

    It’s easy to blame a guy who just showed up from London than it is to say “we allowed the state legislature to sell out our future, because we either benefitted or couldn’t be bothered to stop it.” The MTA may be surprised, but I’m not. Why is everyone in every part of our society surprised when being in debt means you are less well off?

    Because no one is willing to look in the mirror, you have to expect an institutional collapse. What I want to know is the distribution by equivalent cycling distance of MTA bus and subway trips, and how many riders can telecommute.

  • MTA Punching Bag

    Brad, if you cast your media net a little wider you would find most of the coverage — especially TV — has depicted the MTA as the villain. For every Michael Daly piece there are twenty dopey TV stories blaming the MTA. This is exactly why mayors and governors have been able to cut support for student passes for over a decade. Mayor Bloomberg seems to have no trouble decrying the MTA as a “piggy bank” while his administration plunders it. The mayor’s MTA board appointees voted to cut student passes, but has the mayor offered to pay for them? No. Has Christine Quinn offered to pay for them? Nope.

  • Josh

    Jay Walder is also quoted by the NY Post this morning as saying:

    “” These actions will change lives. They will affect people’s well-being. This pain is real,” MTA chairman Jay Walder said. He also decried the high cost of labor at the agency, saying, “We need to take the place apart” — noting that $500 million is spent each year on overtime. “We must not be afraid to eliminate work that is no longer necessary,” he said, adding that will likely mean “layoffs.” “”

    There are funding issues, for sure, but there are also massive inefficiency issues. This guy is the best hope to FIX the MTA we’ve had in years… Let’s give him a chance before we cast him as Public Enemy #1.

  • Okay, how long has Olbermann had this feature? And he’s still not had Pedro Espada as the “Worst”?

    This is why people on the left hate liberals so much.

  • The whole point of the MTA since it was created seems to insulate elected officials from responsibility of actually managing transportation. Instead they can take pot shots from the sidelines like Olbermann and look like they are on the right side of an issue while doing nothing to actually solve the issue.

  • Interestingly, Joe Scarborough took a more accurate angle of attack on the State this morning on Morning Joe. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be available online.

  • Jason A

    Glenn says more in two sentences than the entire NY media said its weeklong coverage of this issue…

    Politicians play us for the fools we are when we resort to blasting the MTA. What a brilliant system.

  • This is one of the reasons that people love their own elected officials but get frustrated by the whole system. They elect people who continuously say the same things as they do: We want lower fares, we want better service, we want clean stations…etc. But then the elected officials put a corporate board in charge of that governmental service and structure the finances to always underfund it.

  • there’s no crying in transit!

    i don’t know the MTA, WMATA, or any other agency very well, but i do have a general impression of them all — they should all be rebuilt from scratch. i’ve not ever been impressed by a single transit agency, ever.

    in fact, i can’t even recall a single time i’ve ever thought an agency has done an ‘OK’ job given their requirements and resources. not once. ever.

    for the love of dog, please try to hold your agency accountable for a change.

    if you read DC publications, you’ll see people bending over backwards to save the job of the guy who presided over many deaths on the tracks. this stuff is not rocket science. you don’t need a degree from Harvard, MIT, or any other cut-rate institution. stop making excuses for these crooks.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I do have a general impression of them all — they should all be rebuilt from scratch.”

    Without the contractual constraints and legacy retirement costs protected by state law? Without the rules favoring contractors protected by state law? Without the institutional structures created by state law? Without all the debts run up by prior generations, with only a tiny amount related to actual improvements rather than mere maintenance?

    If you want something built from scratch, you need either a revolution, bankruptcy, or both.

  • Mike from NYC

    Those hefty 3.5% raises the MTA union received hasn’t helped either which will cost the MTA $100M in 2010 and $200M in 2011. What sane arbitration panel members can award such hefty pay hikes in today’s economy?

    The MTA should go Chapter 9 and wipe the slate clean including all the ridiculous benefits they will be forced to pay.

  • Ian Turner


    A few notably well-run transit agencies:
    – San Francico’s BART
    – Pretty much any subway system in Western Europe, East Asia, or Singapore



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