MTA Finances Grow Even Shakier Under GOP House

New House rules under Speaker John Boehner threaten the federal transportation funding, including for the MTA. Image: Republican Conference via Flickr.
New House rules under Speaker John Boehner threaten the federal transportation funding, including for the MTA. Image: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/republicanconference/4642181290/##Republican Conference via Flickr.##

The assault on the MTA’s already battered finances could now come from yet another front: the federal government. The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives passed a rule Wednesday that would allow reductions in federal transportation spending, including investment in transit. That puts previously secure federal funds on the negotiating table, making it that much harder for the MTA to balance its books.

For more information about the Republican rule, check out Tanya’s report over at Streetsblog Capitol Hill. As she explained, Congress no longer has to spend a set amount annually from the Highway Trust Fund (which, despite the name, is really a pot for surface transportation, including transit and bike-ped projects). Instead of spending being guaranteed, Congress can just hang onto the money.

That rule drew opposition from a wide-ranging coalition, including traditional highway boosters like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. One group that’s particularly anxious, however, is the MTA. The potential loss of some federal funding — and the uncertainty over how much might get cut — is more bad news for New York transit.

Transportation Nation’s Kate Hinds reported yesterday that MTA Chair Jay Walder had sent a letter to Rep. Anthony Weiner, pleading against the new rule, before it passed in a straight party-line vote. The MTA’s “five-year capital program depends on steady, predictable multi-year funding,” Walder wrote. “If transportation funding is subject to the vagaries of the appropriations process, transit projects that generate jobs and economic activity throughout New York State will be at risk.” Streetsblog has a request in with the MTA to find out how the rule change might affect ongoing capital projects like the Second Avenue Subway.

As things currently stand, the MTA’s budget already doesn’t add up. There’s a $10 billion gap in its five-year capital program, and Governor Cuomo and the state legislature have no plan to fill it. The potential loss in federal funds could add to that deficit. Then throw in the distinct possibility of Albany stealing more dedicated funds from the MTA to close its own multi-billion deficit — with the state budget worse than ever, those raids could be even larger than before. There’s even the chance that the newly-empowered Senate Republicans will win their fight against the payroll mobility tax, which could yank hundreds of millions of dollars away from transit riders each year.

With the new House rules, there seem to be far more ways for the MTA to lose money looming over the horizon than hopes for it to get back on its feet.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The man in the picture said the only exception to wide ranging budget cuts would be “commonsense” protection for spending on senior citizens and the military. Add in interest on his generation’s debts, and you have just about the whole federal budget.

    But it is interesting to see what the first target of budget cuts is: infrastructure. Why? Because investment in infrastructure benefits THE FUTURE these guys have been wrecking for years.

    The House Republicans also scaled back their promise to cut $100 billion back to $60 billion overall.

  • Larry Littlefield

    By the way, I don’t make this stuff up.

    “If we actually want to help our economy get back on track and begin creating jobs, we need to end the job-killing spending binge,” Boehner said. The pledge promises to roll back most spending to levels of two to three years ago. Votes would be held each week on specific cuts, but there would be “common sense exceptions for seniors, veterans and our troops.”

    Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/2010/12/26/2542794/new-congress-promises-little-bipartisanship.html##ixzz1ANPk7LSf

    Common sense, or political sense? Those seniors may be the best off generation this country ever sees.

  • J:Lai

    “Those seniors may be the best off generation this country ever sees.”

    I certainly think the current cohort of those over 60 will be the best-off generation for a while.
    I predict it will take 5-10 years from now for truly significant opposition from a younger cohort to mobilize and even begin to halt the transfer of resources from young (including unborn) to old.

  • Morris Zapp

    This blow to working-class New Yorkers, assuming Republicans get their way, can be laid directly at the feet of Congressman Weiner, who blasted congestion pricing and ridiculed the idea of tolling “free” bridges while screaming about supposed MTA malfeasance and issuing vague promises of federal assistance that, of course, never materialized.

    Andrew Cuomo needs to break his silence on what he intends to do to fund New York City’s trains and buses. Now.

  • JamesR

    At this rate, how long until the ‘bad old days’ of NYC will be upon us once again?

  • Tsuyoshi

    The bad old days are not coming back. They were triggered by two things: highway construction which allowed the middle class to live in the suburbs while easily commuting to the city to work, and massive migration from the South and from Puerto Rico. The highways to (and in) the suburbs are now clogged with traffic (triggering the gentrification you now see in many areas with good transit) and most people who could leave impoverished places for New York already have. Most of the poor people moving here now are subject to immigration quotas, and anyway most of them are moving to the suburbs.

    What we’re going to get are bad new days. Transit subsidies will get cut severely as the more populated suburbs force a continuing emphasis on low density development (e.g. the property tax cap that Cuomo is pushing – without it, land value goes up and you need to subdivide lots or build higher to accomodate population growth), but there’s a lot more upward pressure on transit ridership than 30 or 40 years ago, so what will probably happen is just that service will get cut a bit and fares will go way up.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I predict that what will be bad in the bad new days is that there will be fewer places to flee to, as the institutional collapse is happening almost everywhere.

    But I’m not big on “misery loves company” and it is always possible that other places will (once again) single out New York (and other cities) for extra pain. Particularly when our state legislators represent the people who have for the most part moved away.

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