Barring a monumental upset, Andrew Cuomo, a native of Queens and a son of New York City, will be the state’s next governor, and he will be the second consecutive New York City Democratic to hold that spot. As such, the transit-minded among us might believe that Cuomo would have a good idea or a least a plan for the MTA. Yet, much like his opponent GOP candidate Carl Paladino, who wants to dismantle the MTA, Cuomo’s campaign has been light on substance and higher on the rhetoric.
Speaking to a reporter from The Observer after a rally last week, Cuomo issued a brief statement on the MTA. He said:
“I think you need a total overhaul of the MTA. You have to revisit the payroll tax. We’re going to have to figure out ways to make it more efficient and more economical, because we just can’t afford this anymore.”
For Cuomo, this is the first time he has gone on record to opine on matters relating to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. His 252-page Plan for Action for New York State mentions the MTA just twice, and nothing Cuomo says lends the belief that the Democratic nominee understands the MTA’s financial crisis and why it is of vital importance to the region to solve it. His comments last week aren’t comforting either.
On the one hand, Cuomo isn’t wrong. The MTA must be more efficient and economical because we the state of New York and we the city of New York can’t afford it. We can’t afford to see transit fail, and we can’t afford to pump billions into a system that bleeds money. That is a foregone conclusion.
Yet, Cuomo’s belief that the MTA needs a total overhaul seems misguided. To me, a total overhaul suggests removing the people in charge and replacing them with someone else. Yet, right now, Jay Walder, the MTA CEO and Chair, just one year into the job, should not be dismissed. Handed a sinking ship, Walder has tried to right it by cutting $730 million from its annual budget and bringing technological innovations to the system at the same time. He’s making headway with cost savings and with modernization while trying to work, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, with the various labor unions that make up the MTA’s workforce. As the third Chair in four years, Walder should be allowed to ride out this storm and see the job through.
The final part of Cuomo’s statement — revisiting the payroll tax — should leave transit supporters wary as well. The payroll tax wasn’t an ideal solution, and it’s left suburban counties both disgruntled and looking for legal recourse. But the man in charge in Albany must support it. Right now, the MTA is relying on the payroll tax for $1.5 billion next year and nearly $2 billion annually by 2015. If Cuomo is going to reevaluate the payroll tax, he must find a way to replace that money in the MTA’s budget or else the authority will fail.
Cuomo might be right; the MTA needs an overhaul. But it shouldn’t be one that cuts of the MTA’s nose just to spite its face.