Transit Riders: The MTA Can’t Run on Cuomo’s IOUs

Riders Alliance organizer Masha Burina speaking outside the Bowling Green subway station this morning. Photo: David Meyer

Straphangers can’t pay the MTA with an IOU, so why should Governor Andrew Cuomo get away with it?

That’s the message Riders Alliance members brought to the MTA board meeting this morning. After trying and failing to swipe into the Bowling Green subway station with a giant “IOU” Metrocard, the group proceeded to MTA headquarters.

In October, Cuomo committed to contribute $7.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year capital program on top of $1 billion provided in last year’s budget. This year’s budget, however, includes zero dollars for the capital plan (but somehow musters $3.4 billion for roads). Instead, Cuomo’s proposal makes a vague gesture to provide that money sometime in the future — once the MTA has exhausted all other funding sources.

“The machine wouldn’t take it, the agent wouldn’t take, and the turnstile wouldn’t take it,” Riders Alliance member Macartney Morris told the board. “If I can’t use an IOU, Governor Cuomo shouldn’t either.”

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers’ Campaign called Cuomo’s funding scheme “magical” and questioned the sincerity of the governor’s commitment. “It’s like in one of those fairy tales, you know, ‘I’ll give you the money, but first go pick up a clover, and then some blonde hair, and then magic potion,’” he said. “Only for you, the MTA, it’s, ‘First go out and spend $100 million, and then buy a big building — two big buildings, three big buildings — sell them, then go charge your customers $6 billion.’ This is not a good IOU for you or the public.”

Later in the meeting, board member Jeffrey A. Kay echoed advocates’ concerns. “We’re now at the end of March. We’ve been talking about this capital plan for six months,” he told MTA Chair Tom Prendergast. “I really do hope that Albany comes to turns, passes our Capital Plan Review Board package that we sent up, and hopefully there really is money we can point to.”

Prendergast, a Cuomo appointee, brushed off the criticism. “Irrespective of what happens with the full funding, some aspects of where we’re at with this program are not different from the last in the sense that the last time we had a five-year program approved, we had funding certain for two years [and] had to go back for three.”

Last month, 36 members of the assembly signed onto a letter from Brooklyn rep Jim Brennan calling on the governor to provide $1.825 billion annually over the next five years in order to fulfill his commitment. The budget proposal from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, which will be the basis of negotiations with Cuomo and the State Senate, includes $7.5 billion for the capital program.

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