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

The governor's unwillingness to support a fare increase forces the decision — and responsibility for any potential service cuts — onto the MTA board.

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

SB Donation NYC header 2Gov. 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.

SB Donation NYC header 2

  • Streetfilms (928 videos!)

    I propose Cuomo should do the following at his “event” Thursday night.

    Do not go roaming around the tunnels. Instead….

    1- RIde a CitiBike to Manhattan.

    2- Take a cab back to Brklyn with 3 other passengers.

    3- Then walk to Manhattan.

    4- Then take a crowded bus with no bus-only lane back to Williamsburg.

    5- Realize so much more needs to be done.

  • carl jacobs

    Isn’t there a third option? How about “increase labor productivity”?

  • ReadU

    It has already been done. They have had less workers on the trains and buses for YEARS, hence saving while cutting lines, etc. I have also been told by a retired supervisor that cleaners on down to electricians have cut or specific job titles eliminated through attrition. I worked for NYCT for eight years. It can be a thankless job IF YOU DON’T HAVE A LIFE…

  • ReadU

    FWIW they are extremely top heavy!

  • carl jacobs

    I was thinking more along the line of salary reductions. Because what I’ve heard so far is:

    1. Don’t impact riders with fare increases.

    2. Don’t impact riders with service cuts.

    3. Go find some other politically convenient group to tax.

    Well, if you need to reduce the budget, why don’t you attack one of the major budget items driving cost – which is salaries and benefits?

  • Joe R.

    Paying for past labor in the form of pensions, and debt service, are the two major expenses for the MTA. They could wring all the productivity they want out of present workers but they would still be in a hole.

    In my opinion the way out of this which hurts the least number of people is to default on the debt. The (mostly rich) bond holders will still be rich, but we’ll win on two fronts. One, the MTA will get out of its present hole. Two, their credit rating will be in the toilet, which means they’ll never be able to borrow money again. This is a good thing as it’ll force them to pay as they go, not pass costs on to future generations. We won’t be able to do really dumb things like bond against congestion pricing revenues, basically spending all future revenues to pay back the bonds.

  • ReadU

    Salaries are not what is busting the budget. I can see the “crabs in the barrel” is working on working people so I will stay out of the discussion. Btw good luck with even thinking about “salary reduction”, LOL!

  • ReadU

    Also the newer tiers have employees paying into the pension until they retire. All the other information that you have is actually lies of omission. The issue is more complex than you read about…

  • Larry Littlefield

    The Governor channeling the Straphangers from 15 years ago. Are any of them still around? Hey Governor, you need to say there is no need for a fare increase “right now” because there are “hidden $billions” on the second set of books. That’s the way they do it.

    Gee, how come transit advocates are upset when Cuomo does the same thing — AFTER the damage has been done, and its too late.

    What makes “sense” is for the MTA to stop being “debt scolds” and pass an unbalanced budget, and not worry about it until they “run out of resources” and shut the system down. Since no one cares about the transit system 10 years from now, or cared about it 10, 20 and 25 years ago, why care about the future 10 months from now?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Gee, they are paying 3-5 percent for a pension that provides one year of retirement for each year worked (25/55). Now that is an injustice. Couldn’t a special tax be put on private sector workers working past 55 instead of the transit workers having to pay that?

    Maybe it could be retroactively funded with interest. Like the contribution to say “we paid for it” for earlier retirement by managers.

    https://disqus.com/by/nys-sso-fcd593dd5004ac5144cac5082013c721/

  • carl jacobs

    I don’t need luck. Just remember that NYC writing a check it can’t cash does not create an obligation for others to guarantee it.

  • ReadU

    What are you basing this “theory” on? And who will work transporting citizens from place to place with a salary that they cannot live on? A better question is what do you think that the remedy is? A large portion of MTA funds has nothing to do with salaries, it has to do with equity in funding which the Feds pretty much abandoned more than 30+ years ago. You really need to start doing research and stop blaming the public sector…

  • ReadU

    Where did you get that information from? Fox News, the NY Post? Many people don’t get to collect pensions because of death. The average retiree dies NOT live very long. The average MTA worker dies within 7-10 years, that should make some of you feel better about pensioners.

  • ReadU

    In all seriousness most retirees don’t live that long and I am not exaggerating. Being underground is especially unhealthy. Steel dust is everywhere! It is also stressful…

  • carl jacobs

    That’s a nice little misdirection.

    I’m not blaming anyone and I’m not expounding on a “theory” I’m stating a blindingly obvious fact. To balance a budget you must either increase revenue or reduce expenses. Fare increases were mentioned. Service cuts were mentioned. Tax increases were mentioned. What option was not mentioned? Providing the current level of service at reduced cost. Now why would that particular option be omitted? I can offer all sorts of reasons.

  • Jaqen H’ghar

    I imagine there is still fat to trim. If an L train can drive itself why does it need a crew of 2? And tne NY Times has been all over the rampant overstaffing on capital projects vs international norms.

  • Jaqen H’ghar

    I don’t think wages and benefits are anywhere near as big a problem as work rules that drive up costs.

  • Jaqen H’ghar

    The MTA has many problems, but lack of money is not one of them. Anybody who ignores that is being willfully blind of the reality that NYC costs are way out of line of both domestic and international first world norms.

  • Jaqen H’ghar

    Pensions are a luxury the vast majority of people in the private sector no longer enjoy. It is about time the public sector moves to the 401k model like everybody else. It’s honestly not that bad, just put all your money in a S&P 500 index fund and skip paying the “professionals” a cut to try and beat the market when history suggests that most of the time they don’t.

  • Knut Torkelson

    No, lack of money is actually the biggest problem the MTA faces. The MTA had an operating budget of $15 billion in 2018, compared to $14.5 billion for London (TfL), a system that doesn’t run 24/7, isn’t an amalgamation of several different privately built systems, has half as many lines and serves hundreds of millions less passengers a year.

    The costs of running the MTA are high, but not outrageously considering the size and complexity of the system (and that we’re in the city with the highest construction and labor costs in the country). What is outrageous is consistent underfunding of the MTA by the state government, it’s reliance on loans rather than dedicated funding streams from the state, and the $2.6 billion we will have to spend in debt service alone next year. Acting like the gaping hole in the MTA budget and the state government’s consistent refusal to dedicate funding sources to the MTA isn’t the biggest problem facing the MTA is absurdly poorly informed.

  • Knut Torkelson

    Actually a decent idea to force the state’s hand into funding the MTA. Either that or they just kick the can and let the system continue to crumble.

  • Jaqen H’ghar

    Yea, no…

    https://ny.curbed.com/2017/10/13/16455880/new-york-subway-mta-operating-cost-analysis

    Costs are 50% higher than London, which is by any objective measure one of the few “peer” cities to NYC in terms of transit. And that’s before you touch the dumpster fire that is the MTA capital budget.

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