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Andrew Cuomo is the Reason for Monday’s MTA Budget Committee Fiasco

2:59 PM EST on December 11, 2018

Photo: Governor’s Office/Flickr

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Gov. Cuomo and the MTA board are in a battle to see who will get blamed for an inevitable transit fare hike next year.

And it looks like the governor will win.

It all started Monday when the MTA board's finance committee was presented with next year's $17-billion budget — which, by law, must be balanced. But the committee declined to give the budget and up or down vote after Cuomo blew up the process by last month by saying he opposes a transit fare hike.

Passing the budget means being blamed for that very fare hike. And the budget with fare and toll increases is the only one on the table. The MTA can't raise revenue on its own — it needs Cuomo to do that. But the governor hasn't passed congestion pricing, doesn't support a millionaire's tax, didn't use Wall Street settlement money for the transit system, and obviously won't borrow more money to balance the books.

So the MTA board is likely going to pass the fare hike-balanced budget on Wednesday. But before doing so, members of the board's finance committee made it clear they're not happy about it.

The MTA needs a huge infusion of cash — and neither fare increases nor congestion pricing will cut it. Image: MTA
The MTA needs a huge infusion of cash — and neither fare increases nor congestion pricing will cut it. Image: MTA

"To me, making a balanced budget on an activity which has not yet taken place [the fare hike] … is in my opinion, the wrong way to go," Suffolk County board rep Mitch Pally said at the Monday meeting. "I understand that we’ve done it this way for many years. That doesn’t make it the right thing to do, it just makes it the former thing to do."

Without a fare and toll increase, MTA officials warn that the agency would be obliged to make service cuts. A decade ago, the board also committed to biennial fare and toll hikes as part of a funding agreement with the state. But Cuomo's opposition to the forthcoming hike is causing some members to reconsider that practice.

"I've been particularly concerned with… the governor's statement that he doesn't think a fare increase is warranted," board member David Jones said. "I’m very concerned that we’re voting on something that’s going to be not supported by a broad range of state policymakers in the state of New York."

From left: MTA board members David Jones, Carl Weisbrod, and Mitch Pally.
From left: MTA board members David Jones, Carl Weisbrod, and Mitch Pally.

Put in the unenviable position of choosing between fare hikes and service cuts, the finance committee opted to do neither.

”I don’t see how we can vote for a budget that is so out-of-whack," committee members Carl Weisbrod told Chief Financial Officer Bob Foran.

Of course, the chances of the board actually voting down a budget or fare hike are slim. Pally and de Blasio's appointees — Polly Trottenberg, Weisbrod, Jones, and Veronica Vanterpool — account for just five of 12 votes on the board.

Ultimately, the agency needs to have a balanced budget, and regularly scheduled fare hikes play a key role in getting there. Whether they like it or not, board members may have no choice but to raise fares.

And Cuomo will have washed his hands of the problem at least for another year.

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