Trump-Loving Upstate Rep. Elise Stefanik Fails to Support Transit — And Hurts Her District: Report

Lots of companies upstate — and around the country — are in business because the MTA spends so much money on stuff it needs — like new rail cars. Photo: Kevin Coughlin
Lots of companies upstate — and around the country — are in business because the MTA spends so much money on stuff it needs — like new rail cars. Photo: Kevin Coughlin

President Trump’s favorite upstate Congresswoman is hurting her own constituents as she refuses to act to save the New York area’s octopine subway and bus service, advocates said this week.

Rep. Elise Stefanik defended President Trump during the impeachment hearings.
Rep. Elise Stefanik defended President Trump during the impeachment hearings.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, one of the president’s staunchest defenders during the impeachment drama earlier this year, represents a Plattsburgh-area district that is home to factories for both Nova Bus and Bombardier — companies that have received more than $1 billion in MTA contracts over the past decade and are slated to earn $5 billion more if the next capital construction program goes ahead.

That money doesn’t only benefit those two companies — there are an estimated 54 firms in the Plattsburgh area, and 9,000 workers who are directly connected to MTA spending. Meanwhile, Stefanik has emerged as a major GOP star — speaking at the recent Republican National Convention and raising significant out-of-district money as a result of her defense of the president — but has not used her influence to support transit in New York. She voted against the so-called HEROES act in May, a bill that would have allocated another $3.9 billion in aid to the MTA, which received a short-term infusion under the earlier CARES Act.

Stefanik did sign onto a letter written in June by New York State Republican House members and sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking for another round of funding for the MTA, but she has been silent since. (Indeed, she did not return a call from Streetsblog.)

“Rep. Stefanik was very public about vouching for the president, but she voted against a House bill that would have funded transit — so she is risking losing a lot of jobs in her own district,” said Danny Pearlstein of Riders Alliance, which has studied the issue. “The material ramifications in her district are vast.”

Pearlstein thinks that it’s not just bad policy, but bad politics.

“She has done a lot to recruit Republican women and she has expended political capital to provide ‘pink-washing’ for the president, who has, to say the least, a poor record on misogyny,” he said. “She could cash in some of that political capital to save jobs in her district and to save a transit system that is an economic engine of the nation, but she has not done so.”

Pearlstein’s organization has studied the MTA’s spending, determining that over the past decade, MTA has spent $1 billion in Plattsburgh. The next capital plan — which is very much in doubt if the agency does not get $12 billion in funding to cover its immense losses through 2021 — calls for the purchase of 2,400 buses (at $500,000 apiece) and 1,900 subway cars (at $2 million each) from Nova and Bombardier respectively.

More than 1,000 people work at those two upstate factories. The MTA spent $479 million on buses and repairs at Nova and $600 million at Bombardier between 2011 and 2018, Riders Alliance said.

The group’s report echoes an earlier study by Reinvent Albany, which championed more federal money for the MTA because the agency spent $8 billion outside of New York State between 2011 and 2018.

“Federal officials need to see that the MTA is a major player in terms of creating jobs, not just in New York, but across the country,” Rachael Fauss, who worked on the report, said at the time.

Pearlstein is singing harmony to that now.

“She voted against the bill instead of saying, ‘We need to bail out transit,'” said Pearlstein. “So the question is what is she doing now? We’re down to the wire. She has done so much to bolster President Trump, so she needs to cash in those chips.”

Neither Nova Bus nor Bombardier returned calls from Streetsblog. But Garry Douglas, the president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, has been clear that MTA funding has helped his region, citing the 50-plus transportation equipment and aerospace companies that have opened or expanded in the area since Nova opened its bus plant 10 years ago, employing 9,000 people.

“That’s how much the cluster has grown thanks to the commitment of the big players like Bombardier and Nova Bus,” he told the ironically named Press-Republican. “Our area chose right.”

Meanwhile on Thursday, the MTA released the text of letters it has written to its 11 top suppliers urging them to support a federal infusion for public transit. The upshot? “MTA capital projects are a critical driver of economic activity that we need now more than ever as the U.S. grapples with its worst financial outlook in generations,” the letters, signed by CEO Pat Foye, all say. “Let me be clear: federal funding for mass transit isn’t a red or blue issue — it’s a jobs issue. We need the U.S. Senate to act and deliver more than $32 billion in funding for transportation agencies across the country.”

The MTA says it has created nearly 500,000 jobs since 2011 in the states that are home to the companies: Alstom Transportation, Bombardier, Cubic Transportation Systems, Hitachi Rail, Kawasaki Rail, New Flyer of America, Prevost Car, Siemens Corporation, Thales Transport & Security, Transcore, and Wabtec Passenger Transit.

And here’s a reminder of an old bit of graffito that once graced a Greenpoint building (don’t look for it, it’s gone):

Photo: Frank H. Jump
Photo: Frank H. Jump

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