Cuomo Barely Mentions Transit in 2013 Agenda

Tuning in to this afternoon’s State of the State address, you could be forgiven for forgetting that New York depends on the nation’s largest transit system — a system burdened by debt and ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, which is in desperate need of leadership from the governor. Between the inside political jokes and grand pronouncements, Andrew Cuomo barely had time to talk about what makes New York’s economy run: its transit system.

Forget about what causes things like hurricanes, Andrew Cuomo is focused on building big bridges for people to drive on.

Cuomo did have time to talk about his big symbol of accomplishment, the Tappan Zee Bridge, which was plastered on the cover of the speech’s 312-page agenda. “It is big, it is bold, it is beautiful,” he said of the new Tappan Zee. “We did it in one year, instead of talking about it for ten.” What he doesn’t mention, of course, is that in the process he chucked transit out the window, passing it off to a study committee and dealing a huge setback to transit-oriented growth in the Hudson Valley.

It was nearly an hour into the speech before Cuomo began to talk about rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy, and when he did, he mainly spoke in platitudes about the need to protect the subway and the city’s other underground infrastructure from flooding. “The technology is there. It’s expensive but it’s necessary,” he said.

While his own NYS 2011 Commission has recommended creating a resilient bus rapid transit network to keep New York moving around the clock, including in the wake of disaster, Cuomo didn’t mention anything about that today. His nod to transportation resilience in the speech was that the state must create a fuel reserve to avoid gas shortages.

Although Cuomo said that the regional greenhouse gas emission cap should be lowered — “climate change is real,” he said — the speech didn’t touch on how transit can reduce emissions. But he did manage to promote the idea of a statewide network allowing electric car owners to plug in and recharge.

And at the conclusion of his speech, when Cuomo revisited Sandy rebuilding, he didn’t mention subway fortifications at all. “We can rebuild thousands of miles of roads,” he told the audience.

The governor’s vision for a greener New York makes no connection between transportation, land use, and the environment. He laid out a plan for three “destination resorts and casinos” upstate, so downstate residents and tourists will travel and stimulate the upstate economy. He didn’t even salvage that idea by suggesting that these casinos could be sited in depressed cities and towns in an effort to rebuild those communities.

Cuomo cited the cost of gasoline and auto insurance — a combined $2,600 a year, according to his numbers — when talking about the struggles faced by minimum-wage earners. He never mentioned the cost of a MetroCard, and MTA fare hikes and debt spending were nowhere to be found in Cuomo’s speech or the accompanying 312-page agenda.

  • Downstate needs to secede if we have any hope of having a state government that at all intends to address our present and future needs. The New York City metropolitan area can’t be treated as if it were one big suburb of Albany.

  • Cuomo = Christie

    Cuomo’s got his head stuck up a car’s tailpipe.

  • Joe R.

    @brianvan:disqus I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, NYC would do quite well on its own as an independent city-state along the lines of Singapore or Hong Kong. We pay more in taxes than we get back in spending from both the federal and state governments. Of course, without the tax base in NYC to support it, upstate and the suburbs will wither and die, or at least become a lot more expensive to live in, but that’s not our problem. In fact, the city would be better off if that happened given how much traffic into the city these places generate. About the only place we might need to subsidize are the farms which grow our food (at least until we could build vertical farms locally).

  • Anonymous

    Where’s all the smog from the bridge blocking the sun?

  • Anonymous

    Could the design of that cover–and the name of it–get more, uh, Riefenstahl-esque? 

  • Anonymous

    @brianvan:disqus NYC’ers should be using its influence to support the urban areas upstate, so voters share common interests.  We have to stop policies that support places like Buffalo and Utica from becoming sprawlsvilles.  They were once great cities with decent transit, vibrant downtowns, and walkable and bikeable neighborhoods.

    We need to ally ourselves with upstate urbanists, as Tri-State Transportation Campaign is doing, to fight for the things we all want — better bus service, bike lanes, safer streets and denser development around transit.  Then we can have the support of state legislators up there too.  

  • Nathanael

    What we need is a candidate for governor in 2014.  Someone who is NOT Andrew Cuomo.

    He’s promoting fracking in upstate, too, which will *kill* our farm economy.  He’s an upstate problem as well as a downstate problem.

  • Larry Littlefield

    And what exactly to you expect him to say?

    He inherited $32 billion in MTA debt, no money for the next capital plan, and an underfunded pension.  Despite a 1/8 cent sales tax increase and a 1/4 percent payroll tax being dedicated to MTA needs in recent years, and a series of fare and toll increases.

    The efficiencies have been wrung, at least from the subway, and the future is one of ongoing misery thanks to the past.  Fare increases.  Toll increases.  Labor conflict.  Service cuts, diminished maintenance and deterioration.

    There are no goodies to hand out.  Those who talked about transit talked about handing out goodies.  He can either talk about shared sacrifice, or he can talk about bankruptcy, but neither will add to his popularity.  Most here don’t want to hear either of those solutions, either.

    The deed has been done, and the past cannot be wished away.  So it is in his political interest to say as little about mass transit as possible.

    The question is, who will he seek to appoint?  Someone to increase the hole by trying to sweep things under the rug until 2016?  Or some ticked off person like me who would spend most of the next few years telling just about everyone to go to hell while saying and doing very unpopular things (so he doesn’t have to)?

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’ll go further.  While it is reasonable to blame Cuomo for not angrily confronting the MTA mess (the trust fund for road maintenance is in the same mess), blaming him — and the next Mayor — for that mess is dishonest and rather convenient for a host of former city and state politicians.  As in implying that there is anything he can do about it that would make anyone happy.

    With regard to the federal budget deficit, The Economist recently has an article that held that maybe the problem with the government is actually the people, who want more than they are willing to pay for.  True enough.  But if they got what they wanted in the past, you have a future of getting less than they pay for.  That is rather more to ask for, but the other alternative — and the one that seems to be chosen — is institutional collapse.

  • Anonymous

    @f9b2cb395abd5a101456b3b0a40912e1:disqus Defending Cuomo by pointing to other people’s cowardice is pretty feeble–hence your need to claim that he’s being blamed for those problems (blamed by whom?) or that there’s some implication somewhere that he could do something “about it that would make anyone happy.”

    This is a report that pretends “gambling our way to prosperity” (i.e., handing over money to casino owners) is a viable economic program. Go to Atlantic City and see how that’s working out for them.

    Not that it’s all bad. The attack on stop-and-frisk and the claim that he’s going to propose decriminalize “open view” marijuana possession make a lot of sense.

    It’s just a shame he doesn’t care enough about transit to make even the weakest gestures toward strengthening its day to day function.

  • Someone

    This shows how little Cuomo and the NY government cares about transit in NY.

  • jrab

    dporpentine, it seems from reading the post above that Stephen Miller, for one, is blaming Gov. Cuomo for not making transit a higher priority. Larry’s point, as always, is that the marginal dollar of increased transit budget only results in about 33 cents of spending on transit, as opposed to 67 cents of retiree spending, and that this is not a recipe for making taxpayers happy, as we saw in Rockland County last year.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Larry’s point, as always, is that the marginal dollar of increased transit budget only results in about 33 cents of spending on transit, as opposed to 67 cents of retiree spending, and that this is not a recipe for making taxpayers happy, as we saw in Rockland County last year.”

    Not exactly.  It is the EXISTING dollars that are all being grabbed by the past.  And there would have to be more marginal dollars if we are to continue to have transit.  But that means costs without benefits, from people conditioned to be rewarded by demanding the reverse.

    I centainly remember the one thing Cuomo did say about the MTA.  “Two sets of books.”  Arrgh.  Who created that monster?  Who was happy with it at the time?  Lots of people.  It would be very easy to make different assumptions and come up with a different set of books for the MTA from 1993 to the present.  It would show the opposite of what the two sets of books folks have asserted.

    If Cuomo actually wants to do something about transit, he’d have to be willing for his approval rating to fall from 80 percent to 40 percent.  So he does nothing. 

    (Actually he put a little state general fund money into the MTA capital plan, for the first time in 20 years.  Nowhere near enough.  I guess he figures politics is the art of the possible.  No credit for it however.)

  • Larry Littlefield

    Speaking of Cuomos, there is some background people who follow these issues ought to know.  Has anyone been following these issues long enough to remember the early 1990s budget know as “The Big Ugly?”
    Mario Cuomo had seen debts and pension deals, and money stolen from the future, wreck New York City.  He was a fiscally responsible Governor who helped fund the original MTA Capital Plans.
    But in the early 1990s he was confronted with a recession and fiscal crisis that hit New York City and State far harder than any since, including the period after 9/11 and the Great Recession.  Facing a fiscal abyss and seeking re-election for a fourth term, he pushed through a completely irresponsible budget.  It was the original sin of this era.
    Among other things, the state cut off general funds for the MTA Capital Plan, and the city (with its own fiscal crisis) did the same.  And the state “sold” the Thruway to the Thruway Authority, which borrowed $billions to pay for it.  Why does the Thruway Authority have no money to replace the Tappan Zee after all those decades of tolls?  That’s why.
    Mario Cuomo probably figured that after re-election and economic recovery he’d go back to being responsible.  Instead we got Pataki, Giulani, Bloomberg, Spitzer, Silver, Bruno, Skelos, and ever more future selling for two decades in good times and bad.  So here we are.
    Perhaps that Thruway Authority deal is one reason Andrew feels the need to make it up to the Lower Hudson Valley by making that replacement happen.  Meanwhile after 20 years the MTA hole is probably just too much to face.
    I’d love to see Mario Cuomo come out and say that if he knew what his successors would do, he’d have imposed far worse sacrifice in spite of the crisis at the time.

  • CalumCookable

    These myopic clowns are going to doom us all.

  • Anonymous

    I think that we realize that there is not enough money to maintain, let alone expand, all of the existing transportation infrastructure.  We either have to pay more to keep what we have, or accept disinvestment.  The question is how we should allocate resources.  Should drivers give up more than transit riders?  Should we invest in new subway lines at the expense of existing lines?
    These questions have both political and economic implications, and as usual the politics is out of sync with the economics.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I think that we realize that there is not enough money to maintain, let alone expand, all of the existing transportation infrastructure.”

    Trouble is, that “we” is probably limited to people who read Streetsblog.  And perhaps not all of those.  “Two sets of books” fables, or even silence, are preferable to that reality for those without the need or inclination to care about the future.

  • Anonymous

    @85211970d034887d032f8c319f70adbb:disqus Littlefield’s line was “blaming him — and the next Mayor — for that mess”–not blaming him for not bringing it up, as Miller implicitly does.

    And it’s not as though I don’t understand the problem. I just don’t see why Cuomo should get a pass for not dealing with it. I’m not a believer in patting politicians on the head for their cowardice–or of turning to other, greater cowards and talking about them when they don’t have power.

  • Anonymous

    Also: it’s not as though these costs are themselves immutable and not free from subject to political action. The rise in health insurance costs (a significant reason for the MTA’s costs) is very definitely something politicians can do something about. That they choose not to is further evidence of poor planning and analysis.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I just don’t see why Cuomo should get a pass for not dealing with it.”

    My question remains.  “What exactly did you expect him to say?”

    It is no coincidence that the one thing he talked about was storm preparation.  Because he assumes federal money will be available for it.

    In my view leadership, at every level, would involve making “blood and tears” speeches given the current context.  We didn’t hear it from Obama.  We haven’t heard it from Cuomo.  And we haven’t heard it from the candidates for Mayor.  Is that what you were hoping for?


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