Home MTA Politics The Governors Debate: Baselessly bashing the MTA

The Governors Debate: Baselessly bashing the MTA

by Benjamin Kabak

This guy might be our next governor, but he doesn't seem to know much about the MTA.

Due to a last-minute trip to California, I didn’t have the chance to watch the debate amongst the various candidates for governor last night, but when I landed, I watched some of the proceedings online and read the commentary. The proceedings turned into a veritable MTA bash-fest last night, and for seven minutes, the various candidates — including the front-running Andrew Cuomo — proved that they know absolutely nothing about the city’s and state’s most important public authority. They recycled claims of financial mismanagement, highlighted the disproved line about two sets of books and failed to acknowledge the changes that Jay Walder has wrought. A few of the candidates even called for the MTA to be brought under the control of the governor, a foolish plan on so many levels bloth politically and economically.

I’ll bring you more analysis from this debate over the next few days, including some video, but for now, I want to point you to Ben Fried’s recap on Streetsblog. He summarizes:

If Cuomo was trying to say that there’s no political accountability for the MTA, he failed. And his diagnosis — make the MTA a state agency — is off-base. Putting the governor in charge of the MTA won’t make the state legislature less obstinate about funding transit. Until someone with a big bully pulpit, like New York’s next governor, starts describing the threat to transit riders accurately, elected officials will still be able to duck blame for fare hikes and service cuts.

This anti-incumbent election season is as good a time as any for a statewide candidate to turn Albany into the punching bag for transit woes instead of the MTA. It shouldn’t be hard to get some of these points across:

Someone in public office has got to start telling voters what’s actually dragging the transit system down. Otherwise legislators will just have thicker cover the next time transit gets shortchanged in Albany.

I have absolutely no faith that New York’s next governor will right the state’s transportation ship. Mass transit is too important to the economic health of New York City for our politicians to trample all over it, and until we take the fight to the polls and find some candidates who are qualified and knowledgeable enough to run the state, I might just vote for this guy come Election Day.

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16 comments

Edward October 19, 2010 - 3:35 pm

“I’m gonna abolish the MTA and replace it with…” What? A new government agency that will be responsible for transit in a multi-county area of NYS, to include parts of NJ and CT? Oh, wait, that sounds like the MTA.

Silly a-holes think that blowing up something will create a better version of it. God, I really am sick of whining politicians with no clear cut ideas on how to do anything. Hugh Carey and Nelson Rockefeller must be spinning madly in their graves.

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Spencer K October 19, 2010 - 3:37 pm

I’m sure they knew what they were doing, and knew the audience they were trying to target. This is pandering pure and simple.

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Marc Shepherd October 19, 2010 - 4:19 pm

One good reason to abolish the MTA is that it will instantly make all of the politicians’ current excuses obsolete. Putting transit directly under government control would make it impossible for them to claim that some detached independent body is doing all of these nasty things.

Of course, the MTA isn’t really independent anyway. Government created it, government runs it, and government could kill it at any time. But because it has the appearance of being a separate public authority, politicans can make all of these odd claims. Probably the best possible change is to force them to own it.

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Christopher October 19, 2010 - 4:52 pm

Except how would this work with a multistate jurisdiction? If NYS took the MTA in house, I would expect New Jersey and Connecticut would have a thing or two to say about it.

Public benefit corporations exist in places that cross jurisdictional boundaries. Like with the MTA or WMATA — whose organizational structure and lack of dedicated funding is even a bigger problem. No one claims it, but everyone blames it for failing.

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JoshKarpoff October 20, 2010 - 1:13 am

I watched and overall, I felt like Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate had the best grasp on the realities of the MTA and the better, concrete, solutions.

What any politician who wants to put the MTA directly under gubernatorial control forget are the following:

1) You need the MTA Board’s approval to dissolve the MTA, as it is a public authority, chartered by the Legislature, with appointees from the Mayor, the Governor, and the County Executives. You think ANY of them is going to give up their power?

2) You need the legislature, both senate and assembly to approve it. Again, this is the NYS Legislature we’re talking about, the epitome of dysfunction, no matter what happens this election.

3) If, through some miracle, the MTA is transformed into an Executive Agency, the MTA would lose it’s ability to issue bonds. THIS IS A REALLY BIG DEAL. In NY state government, only the Legislature and Public Authorities have the ability to issue bonds. The Executive Agencies must go through the Legislature for all capital borrowing. I know, I worked for an Executive Agency, dealing with capital construction projects.

4) The Transit Agency would have to have it’s budget directly negotiated by the legislature EVERY year. That basically precludes any long term capital planning, as no agency can entirely count on the capital funds approval each year. Corrections, OGS, OMH and DOT all have terrible problems working out capital plans with the legislature.

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SomeGuy32 October 19, 2010 - 5:21 pm

Pretty sure Cuomo is just pandering – any politician running for office that defends the MTA right now (even if correct) will just look bad to the less informed general public (aka – the Majority).

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Anon October 19, 2010 - 5:43 pm

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paulb October 19, 2010 - 5:50 pm

Another revolting thing is this conflating anyone who works at a desk using a pencil or a computer rather than wearing a hardhat and swinging a safety lantern, with a useless, obviously overpaid bureaucrat and everything can be put right by firing that person. And all the union guys are just the salt of the earth, worth every penny, the ones who do the real work. Right. There’s something invidious and sinister in this, considering parents’ usual hope for the next generation is that they will have enough education to merit that desk job rather than propping up a shovel in a filthy tunnel.

Entertaining but awful. A microcosm of this entire election season.

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Sharon October 19, 2010 - 11:08 pm

Union leaders have tons of union dues to spread the word.

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Alon Levy October 19, 2010 - 6:32 pm

Meh. Nothing the politicians say right now has anything to do with how they’ll act if elected. I fully expect Cuomo to govern in much the same pseudo-reformist way of Spitzer and Paterson; in a counterfactual in which Paladino is elected, I’d fully expect him to govern like Sarah Palin.

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Anon October 19, 2010 - 8:39 pm

this guy has my vote

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Sharon October 19, 2010 - 11:06 pm

The situation is so dire at the MTA if common sense changes were made
1) all dedicated moneys returned
2) Unions makes common sense work rule changes including combining ALL bus operations into on operating unit. Cuomo must hold the mta and the unions feet to the fire including firing any manager who is not ensuring his workers do what they are paid for. there are many fine managers and front line workers.

We have the ridership to make this work. It is just that blessing that causes all the problems. I do not want to here that we have the best fare box recovery because that stat is simply because we are the most dense city.

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Justin Samuels October 19, 2010 - 11:28 pm

There have been cutbacks in state spending across the board. Medicaid is facing cutbacks, hospitals have closed, there have been cutbacks in education, policemen have been laid off, some prisons have closed (and some prisoners have been been released early, in part because NY state and other states couldn’t afford to incarcerate them).

With what’s going on both statewide and nationally, why do people here think that the MTA can somehow escape cutbacks?

I love mass transit by the way, and I ride the subway all the time. But the MTA NY isn’t a sacred cow.

Number 2, the public in much of NY state is anti tax, and since mass transit is disproportionately used by people in NYC proper, a big portion of the public resents state subsides of something that they don’t personally use.

For decades, New York City Transit was owned and operated by the city of New York. Perhaps we should return to that. Let the suburban counties and the states figure how to rearrange the commuter railroads.

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Jay Walder vs. the gubernatorial candidates :: Second Ave. Sagas October 21, 2010 - 2:09 am

[…] the authority can and should be doing better — can be read as the perfect counterpart to the baseless bashing session in which the gubernatorial candidates engaged earlier this week. Whereas the state’s next […]

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noname October 21, 2010 - 10:55 am

Cuomo’s website also proposes that all State employees have their salaries frozen for a year.

I think Cuomo thinks he’s a Republican.

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City transit advocates issue Walder defense :: Second Ave. Sagas October 28, 2010 - 3:01 pm

[…] the past few weeks, as the MTA has come under fire from New York’s gubernatorial candidates, I’ve been a staunch defender of MTA CEO and […]

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