NYC Comptroller: With help from state, MTA could avoid fare hike

By · Published in 2007

Two weeks after the MTA announced a 2008 fare hike, the New York City Comptroller has issued a report concluding that the MTA could avoid a fare hike if the City and State were a little bit more willing to subsidize mass transit.

The comptroller’s report is condemnation of the ways in which the State of New York has inappropriately re-appropriated money earmarked for downstate mass transit. They’ve hijacked supposedly dedicated streams of funding and are using them to fund upstate transportation networks used by a relatively miniscule amount of the state population. At the same time, the City of New York isn’t doing enough to meet its financial obligations to the MTA.

According to Comptroller William C. Thomspon’s report, the City and State should enact six sensible measures that would right these economic wrongs. These measures would guarantee the MTA enough money to avoid fare hikes for now and enough financial solvency going forward to minimize the impact of a potential future hike. Let’s take a look at his proposals:

  1. Restore full State funding of the 18-b operating assistance program—$142.4 million annually from the State to NYCT.
  2. Lift the cap on the 18-b operating assistance formula—$195.4 million from the State and $195.4 million from the City to NYCT.
  3. Adjust the MTA Bridges and Tunnels surplus distribution formula to reflect 39 years of inflation—$57.5
    million annually to NYCT; also adjust the formula to reflect the distribution of users of the toll facilities—an additional $26 million annually to NYCT. Combined, a reallocation of $83.5 million in MTA Bridge and Tunnel surplus.
  4. Stop using dedicated downstate transit tax revenue to fund upstate transit system needs—$13.3 million annually from the State to NYCT.
  5. Adjust the school fare subsidy from the City and State to more accurately reflect actual use of student MetroCards—$38.6 million a year in additional school fare reimbursement from the State and $32.9 million from the City to NYCT.
  6. Reinstate City funding of the Staten Island Rapid Transit system deficit—$26.4 million to NYCT.

Based on the information in the nine-page report (PDF here), let me delve briefly into the technical jargon behind these proposals.

Basically, for the first two points, Thompson is highly critical of the way the state has run its State Transit Assistance Program (the 18-b program). Overall, 95 percent of all mass transit rides in New York occur on MTA-controlled properties with New York City Transit accounting for a whopping 85.4 percent of the state total. Clearly, then, the MTA and NYCT should be reaping the benefits from taxes designed to bolster New York mass transit. However, in 2002, the state legislature changed some funding sources around so that, basically, the MTA missed out on over $1 billion in potential revenue since then. The Comptroller, rightly so, wants this money back in the right hands.

Additionally, the 18-b program demands monetary allocation based on mass transit ridership and vehicle miles operated, but lawmakers have not adjusted the amount given to the MTA in five years. A proper adjustment could restore up to another few hundred million dollars to the MTA and NYCT.

Next up is another call for more money based on usage numbers. In this case, the city agencies should be getting more toll surplus money. Again, New York City accounts for 55 percent of all E-ZPass use in the state. Funds are not doled out appropriately; they should be, Thompson argues. It’s foolproof logic.

The next two points focus on ways in which the city and state aren’t fulfilling their financial obligations to the MTA. The fourth examines the ways in which the State’s Executive Budget has routinely tried to shift tax funds from the Metropolitan area’s mass transit to an upstate transit assistance fund. Obviously, the Comptroller believes downstate taxes should fund downstate programs while upstate taxes should fund upstate programs. Why the State doesn’t see it that is anyone’s guess.

Recommendation number five is something I’ll revisit later today. In short, the City and State are bilking the MTA out of around $71 million due to the use of student MetroCards. Thompson wants to end that practice. Amen.

And finally, the Comptroller recommends reestablishing a city handout for the Staten Island Rapid Transit system. The city is supposed to be supporting the line’s deficit while the MTA runs it. But since a Work Employment Program ended in the 1990s, the city has let this obligation slide. They should pick it back up again.

With this plan, Thompson clearly is adopting a New York City-centric line of reasoning. “The changes better reflect the predominant role of the downstate economy in generating tax revenue for the State and provide New York City and the seven adjoining suburban counties of the MTA service region with a fairer share of State transit subsidies,” Thompson said.

Rare is the day that a New York City politician will come out say what we all know: Without New York City, New York State would be a rather bleak state with a poor economy. With New York City, the Empire State becomes a powerhouse. We deserve our share of the money and the recognition. So give it to us.

While the state may be unlikely to sign off on this plan due to obvious political and economic reasons, everyone who rides the subway in New York City should be kissing the feet of Comptroller Thompson. The way to avoid a fare hike is laid out for us. Sensible economic plans that use state laws in their proper context could stave off a fare hike. If that isn’t the utmost in reasonable planning, I don’t know what is.

For their part, the MTA issued a statement in support of the plan. “We appreciate the Comptroller’s work on this matter and his report’s acknowledgment of the vital infrastructure funding needs and $6 billion in deficits we face over the next four years. We have proposed a preliminary plan to close these gaps and address the longer term funding needs. Based on his findings, we hope the Comptroller will partner with us in advocating for the appropriation of this critical funding in Albany and at City Hall,” it read.

I hope the MTA is serious about pursuing this plan before enacting a fare hike. They owe it to us, and we owe the Comptroller for putting this together.

Categories : Fare Hikes

7 Responses to “NYC Comptroller: With help from state, MTA could avoid fare hike”

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  1. […] 2nd Ave. Subway History « NYC Comptroller: With help from state, MTA could avoid fare hike […]

  2. […] yesterday’s flood was his report proclaiming the impending MTA fare hike could be avoided if Albany and the city fulfill their fiscal obligations to the MTA. While Thompson released a statement about the state of the infrastructure during the fallout from […]

  3. […] William C. Thompson’s attention. In August, he issued a comprehensive report detailing how state funds could help the MTA avoid a fare hike overall. Yesterday, he was one of the louder voices calling for a postponed fare […]

  4. […] When it rains bad news, it pours for the MTA. Hot the heels of this whole fare hike mess comes the MTA’s Office of the Inspector General, an independent state-run, investigative and audit unit tasked with keeping an eye on the MTA. All things considered, they do a fairly terrible job. Just ask the City Comptroller. […]

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