Updated 12:52 p.m.: After a morning of consternation and an intense discussion about its responsibilities to the city of New York, the MTA Board voted this morning to adopt the 2010 budget complete with massive cuts to subway and bus service across the New York Metropolitan area. To cover a budget gap of nearly $400 million, the MTA has preliminarily approved a plan to eliminate two subway lines and numerous bus routes, scale back off-peak service, eliminate a student MetroCard subsidy, cut Access-A-Ride paratransit options and reduce pay for non-union employees by 10 percent. The details of the plan can be found right here.
While passing this budget today, MTA Board members were vehement in their anger toward Albany and stressed their responsibilities toward the city’s millions of daily transit passengers. “I will not let Albany, Washington or the city of New York off the hook for their responsibility to come up with public policy that adequate deal with the needs of the 10 million people we serve on a daily basis,” Staten Island’s Allen Cappelli, a Gov. Paterson appointee to the Board, said.
Doreen Frasca, another Paterson appointee, also pointed her finger toward both City Hall and Albany. “This agency is in an abusive relationship with two dead-beat dads,” she said.
The Board members were unanimous in their feelings that this latest financial crisis represents an utter failure of government and broken promises from those in charge of overseeing the state. “Government has to do their share, the mayor and the legislature,” Frasca added. “That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this mess.”
“They” – meaning our representatives in Albany – “were the ones who put together a deal and said you are fine for the next two years; it was their deal that fell apart,” Jeffrey Kay, a mayoral appointee to the Board, said. “The politics has to stop. The public and the riders have to go through this, and they’re caught in the middle of it.”
All, however, is not lost, and these service cuts are far from definite. Prior to calling for a vote, MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder stressed the preliminary nature of this current budget proposal. “On a personal basis, it was only a weekend ago that I began looking at the service cut package,” he said, noting that the agency will “take some time at the beginning of the year” to reassess the plans to cut service. Hopefully, he says, the MTA will be able to eliminate some of the planned cuts after a deeper look.
In the end, the MTA Board members did not want to initiate these cuts, but they have a legal obligation to pass a balanced budget for 2010 before the end of the 2009 calendar year. The Board will continue to explore the wisdom behind shifting capital and stimulus funds to cover the operating gap, and that debate, which I’ll explore later today, will be rancorous as well. Some MTA Board members were in favor while others were not. “I have great difficulty in moving capital money to operating,” Mitchell Pally, Suffolk County’s representative to the board, said. “That’s the problem we had in the 70s when we did that and it took us a very very long time to change the negative consequences of that.”
The Board will also try to work with New York State and City politicians to find ways to avert cuts to the student MetroCard program and the Access-A-Ride options. Early next year, the agency plans to hold another round of public hearings on the cuts, and although today’s vote was a setback for the MTA, but the agency’s hands were tied. “Service cuts are what we can actually do as an agency to stretch the money we can count on for the 12 months it has to cover,” Mark Page, a Bloomberg appointee, said. “This budget is a part of our responsibility to keep the agency going.”
Clearly, this tale of budgetary woes is far from over, but hopefully, it will spur the beginnings of MTA economic reform that would lead to an equitable and steady revenue stream for the beleaguered agency.