Let’s Hear More About All the Money Cuomo Wastes on Not Fixing the Subways

De Blasio's proposal for a millionaires tax to fund transit may or may not win him some short-term political points, but it's definitely muddling the message that voters need to hear: Governor Cuomo runs the subways and should pay for fixing them.

Photo: NY Governor's Office/Flickr
Photo: NY Governor's Office/Flickr

For about a week back in July, there was a significant overlap between Mayor de Blasio’s public message on transit and the real-world policy reforms necessary to turn around New York City’s subways and buses. The message was simple: It’s up to Governor Cuomo, not the city, to fix transit and get his own house in order at the MTA.

Whatever political advantage de Blasio saw in this position, it had the benefit of being substantively true. Power over MTA operations, capital construction practices, and spending priorities is vested in the governor, not the mayor. No amount of money from the city is going to change that.

De Blasio was saying what New York City voters need to hear: If you want good transit service, demand better management from Cuomo and his appointees at the MTA. But now the mayor’s message has changed.

De Blasio held a huge press event this morning to officially announce his proposal to fund transit by raising income taxes on city residents earning more than $500,000 a year. The plan needs approval in Albany, and much like de Blasio’s proposed mansion tax, political observers expect it to be DOA in the State Senate.

We’re no longer in that sweet spot where the mayor’s political instincts align with good outcomes for transit riders. We’re back to empty posturing, with Cuomo and de Blasio ping-ponging back and forth over their own proposals to pay for the MTA, a debate that illuminates very little about what’s wrong with the transit system and how to fix it.

Cuomo’s MTA chief, Joe Lhota, wasted no time over the weekend pointing out that his “emergency plan” to improve subway reliability can’t wait for a bill to clear the state legislature. He’s right, insofar as a millionaires tax isn’t going to pay for immediately staffing up to prevent delays, as called for in the MTA’s plan. But the whole premise that Cuomo needs $450 million from the city and can’t pay for the emergency measures with state resources is absurd.

Consider all the state money Cuomo has sloshing around for other infrastructure initiatives that are far less pressing than reliable New York City transit service:

Meanwhile, direct state support for the MTA is almost nil. And this list doesn’t even touch on sky-high MTA capital costs that routinely consume at least two or three times as much money as comparable transit agencies spend on comparable projects.

Not all of this spending is slated for 2017 (though much of it is), but there’s no doubt that Cuomo has enough slack to pay for the most important transportation system in the state, if he wants to.

There was never any need for the governor to turn a full-blown transit crisis into another occasion to pummel his political rival de Blasio. The mayor was on the right track last month — this is Cuomo’s mess, and Cuomo needs to fix it himself.

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