Home MTA Politics Dutchess County Assembly rep fails the MTA test

Dutchess County Assembly rep fails the MTA test

by Benjamin Kabak

Joel Miller, a doctor and a Republican Assembly representative from the Poughkeepsie area, should know about transit in New York City works. After all, he grew up and went to school in the city, and although he has lived in Poughkeepsie since 1969, he has served on the New York State Assembly since 1995. Considering how Metro-North serves his district and how people rely on the trains to get to and from the city, he should know all about it.

Of course, he doesn’t, and we can induct Rep. Miller into the ever-growing club of Albany politicians who have no clue how the MTA and its internal structure works. Even as Rep. Miller brings up some valid points about the authority, he does so by accident, and his critiques should fall on deaf ears.

The extant charges involve this article and this press release, both of which touch upon similar concerns. The gist of Miller’s complaint is that the payroll tax harms his constituents and that the MTA should not be “bailed out” by Albany — those responsible for MTA oversight and funding — time and time again. How utterly uncreative.

The recent quotes concern the report from the Empire Center for New York State policy concerning the MTA payroll. Noted that the MTA payroll has increased in a time of bailouts and funding crises, Miller did not miss a beat or the chance to get his name in the paper. “I am very alarmed with the findings of this report, which detail the level of ineffectiveness and degree of mismanagement at the MTA,” he said. “With the ballooning state debt and an ongoing fiscal crisis in Albany, the MTA should not be authorizing an increase in pay for hundreds of its employees. While state officials have been forced to make tough decisions and cut spending, the MTA has chosen to continue its path of irresponsible spending. This stems from a lack of accountability.”

The emphasis, of course, is mine for obvious reason. While the MTA payroll inched up by a few percentage points last year, one of the greater sources of increase came from the arbitration-awarded raises the MTA’s TWU workers earned. Now, this isn’t to say that these workers should not have won those raises or that the MTA should not be paying them. It is to note that Rep. Miller seems to believe the MTA opted to give everyone raises when quite the opposite was true. The authority had no choice in the matter, and if Miller doesn’t recognize that reality, I wonder if he’s the one suffering from a lack of voter accountability.

For Miller, bashing the MTA is nothing new. Over the last ten years, he’s repeatedly tried to sunset the MTA payroll tax. He claims it puts a “disproportionate burden” on Dutchess County and should be rescinded completely because some of his constituents don’t use the MTA.

“It is unfair and unwise to force people to shoulder this weight,” he said of the payroll tax last fall, “despite the fact that many of them do not use mass transit while continuing to reward the MTA for years of fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement.” Clearly, the lessons of positive externalities are lost on Rep. Miller.

As with many New York politicians on both sides of the aisle, Miller can’t make a good point without dragging down his arguments. The MTA does have a bloated payroll; the MTA is mismanaged; and Dutchess County shouldn’t carry more than its fair share of the tax burden. But it’s not because the MTA awarded raises and wants to pick on the suburbs. Until our elected start showing a modicum of comprehension when it comes to the way the MTA works, I fear that fighting for transit under this modified home rule political scheme is an uphill battle, and Rep. Miller is just one more boulder we need to push up the hill.

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Gary June 8, 2010 - 12:50 am

“It is unfair and unwise to force people to shoulder this weight,” he said of the payroll tax last fall, “despite the fact that many of them do not use mass transit while continuing to reward the MTA for years of fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement.”

That is a really dumb thing to say, even for a politician trying to score points with his constituents. I’m sure there are some people who don’t use the MTA in New York City either. Of course, I hear this sort of argument from people who think they should pay x taxes they do because they don’t use y services so this isn’t new, just cheap.

Gary June 8, 2010 - 12:52 am

Of course, I hear this sort of argument from people who think they should pay x taxes…

Err, meant to say “they shouldn’t pay” there.

Andrew June 8, 2010 - 6:43 am


Politicians can get away with this because the passage of last year’s lukewarm payroll tax was termed a “bailout” – and the MTA didn’t even object. The MTA isn’t, of course, a private, for-profit corporation, like the other entities that received bailouts.

The MTA’s current difficulties largely stem from four issues: first, much of the MTA’s funding is tied to sources that drop precipitously when the economy is poor; second, unwise politically motivated decade-old decisions on the MTA’s part have dumped large debts in the present MTA’s lap; third, the state has reduced its “contribution” to the MTA so much that it isn’t even passing along the MTA’s dedicated tax revenues anymore; and fourth, a poorly timed arbitration award has forced the MTA to give many of its employees raises when it can ill afford to do so.

None of these problems were created by current MTA leadership. One is entirely a legislative issue; another is downright theft by the state. Perhaps Miller should propose a more stable funding source for the MTA and should demand that the state “contribute” to the MTA, at a bare minimum, the dedicated tax revenues it owes to the MTA.

Taxpayer June 8, 2010 - 9:10 am

The MTA’s sole reason to exist (e.g. why it’s not just an agency) is to provide political cover for politicians who don’t like to make unpopular decisions, like raising fares or cutting service.

This way, the politician gets to complain about service cuts and fare hikes while at the same time cutting subsidies from the MTA’s budget.

If there is mismanagement, the mismanagement is located in Albany, where the State has perpetually denied the MTA a stable and predictable revenue stream.


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