DMI to Gov Candidates: New Yorkers Need to Know Your Transit Platforms

John Petro and Dan Morris at the Drum Major Institute have a great op-ed in the Albany Times-Union today, asking the candidates for governor how they plan to deal with New York’s transit funding crisis. With the largest MTA service cut in a generation barely behind us, the third fare hike in three years looming in January, a $9 billion hole in the agency’s five-year capital plan, and a huge pile of debt that threatens to make future fare hikes steep and painful, the next governor needs to build support for bold funding solutions. Incremental steps won’t cut it.

From top: Candidates Cuomo, Lazio, and Paladino. Photos via candidate websites.

But here we are, with less than three weeks until primary day and about two
months until the general election, and the candidates for governor
haven’t given any indication how they’ll handle the crisis except to make it worse.

Petro and Morris write:

State lawmakers must craft a long-term plan for taming the debt they
let grow out of control and for maximizing new sources of transit
funding without overburdening average taxpayers or the riding public.

That brings us to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo
and his challengers for the executive mansion. The next governor will
have to demonstrate precisely the kind of leadership absent in Albany
if there is any hope of reprioritizing public transit and fixing the
MTA. So the media should push the gubernatorial candidates, especially
frontrunner Cuomo, to explain their ideas.

Cuomo’s policy
platform doesn’t mention the MTA. It includes only a brief endorsement
of high-speed rail service between New York City and Buffalo, and a
single paragraph on a "state infrastructure bank" that would enable
better coordination of state infrastructure funds and better
competition for federal transportation grants. Yet, on the stump, Cuomo
has hinted he may roll back the taxes necessary to support public
transit. Some clarification is definitely in order.

There are millions of transit riders coping with worse service right now who only have higher fares to look forward to. The political response of the typical New York state incumbent is to deflect that rider anger right back onto the MTA. The candidate who wants to distinguish himself from the Albany status quo could start clarifying his transit policy in a very simple way: Start telling the truth about why our transit system is in deep trouble.

  • Bolwerk

    Why does a rattlesnake bite? It’s its nature! It’s probably a safe bet that Lazio’s and Paladino’s policies will be the continued rape of NYC to feed pork projects elsewhere. That’s what Republikans have been doing for a generation now, while they howl about “tax and spend liberals” (e.g., the actual conservatives across the aisle in the small-R republican party).

    Cuomo’s silence is worrying, though he seems fairly balanced on many issues. Perhaps he’s trying to avoid alienating cretinous outer borough and suburban constituencies for as long as possible. But if he’s not for transportation reform, I’d say no matter what happens the next NYS administration will be as failed as the one that brought us Spitzer/Paterson…before it even starts.

  • JK

    Cuomo would be politically moronic to take on the MTA funding crisis before the election. What’s he going to do, call for road pricing (East/Harlem tolls or congestion pricing) two months before the vote? Why? His goal is to win office. He has a big lead because he has offered just enough substance,not too much, and established a reputation as a competent leader and manager. Any transportation plan that comes out as part of the campaign will be largely superficial, and skirt the hard issues that matter most. They call it politics for a reason, and politicians do not win major offices by calling for tax and fee hikes.

  • “They call it politics for a reason”

    And that reason is… English? Greek?

    I don’t know everyone in America is convinced that good public policy can not win an election. Where is the evidence for this? Sure, the other guys will demagogue about raising taxes. They do that either way. They do it to politicians who don’t call for any tax changes, and they do it to incumbents who haven’t raised them. It doesn’t matter. Hm. Perhaps the reason the charge is so effective is it highlights the dishonesty and cowardice of politicians whose policies depend on progressively raising taxes but who will not admit to it?

    As far as evidence goes, we have Obama who ran a pretty honest campaign on many points of public policy, significantly including the refusal to endorse a gas tax “holiday”, support for a public option for health care and restoring higher taxes on the wealthy; he won handily despite the predictable anti-tax and even methed-up “socialist” demagoguery. After he took office he let his policy proposals degenerate into a muddle of corporate friendliness and pointless concessions to his enemies, and that’s not working out so well. Or look at Bloomberg. He never ran on congestion pricing but did push very hard for it in office, and was subsequently reelected. I don’t see where the petrifying fear comes from.

    Cuomo doesn’t have my support or my vote until he provides some answer to the rather important question of how we are going to keep the trains running. Not that he needs my support, as millions will experience a pavlovian feudal reaction to his name and just pull the lever. But, conversely, the idea that he’ll lose if he dares to mention pricing or tolls is just as silly. He could credibly announce a plan to repeal the payroll tax increase by replacing it with bridge tolls, which was of course The Plan in the first place. He could credibly call his opponents liars for saying they can repeal the payroll tax without replacing its revenue or wrecking transit. The vast majority of regional voters would be forced to consider whether they would rather pay a payroll tax every working day or pay a bridge toll a few times a year (if at all).

    That would make it an interesting race about solving the real problems that face the state. But if people here continue to believe that an honest campaign is “politically moronic” and are too chicken to ever test the assumption, then of course we will continue to have a government of morons. There are, in fact, homo sapiens who engage in representative democracy far more effectively than New York State, so I’m curious what exactly our excuse is supposed to be.

  • Bolwerk

    You know, another thing, why the hell is the Times-Union doing a better job editorializing about NYC’s transit funding crisis than the bloody NYT, NYDN, and NYP (oh hell, I guess we know about the last one…)?

    Nathan H: I tend to agree with you, but there’s probably a big morale boost for the pol who can be swept in on a supermajority. If you don’t need to talk about something, you don’t in order to avoid alienating people.

    New York kind of almost needs a single issue third party dedicated to transit expansion and reform. The Demokrats seem more in fantasyland about funding transit than Republikans, and the bourgeois-suburban-liberal Working Families Party buys into the myth of the automobile as the backbone of the region’s economy and middle class – while the region declines more and more. There are officials who get it, but there is no organized political movement at the polls pushing for smart transport policy. Hell, even the TWU ultimately seems to be against funding transit, given their opposition to the congestion fee.

  • The Daily News editorials have been pretty good, actually. It’s just their reporting that leaves a little to be desired – like their series on “farebeaters” that ignored the fact that the Select Buses were making more money even though they had more farebeating.

  • Bolwerk

    Yes, NYDN’s editorials have been agreeable, but not exactly informative. Heck, so have the NTY’s sometimes.

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