The illustrious State Senator Lee Zeldin seemingly enjoys himself a tea party in the traditional sense of the phrase. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. Nowhere is that more obvious than in his dealings with the MTA. After spending two years trying to take $1.5 billion away from the transit agency, Zeldin had the audacity to rail, loudly and broadly, against the current fare hike proposal.
In a statement that seems to ignore how all MTA agencies will be raising tolls and fares, Zeldin focused on his Long Island constituents’ key concern: LIRR fares. Let’s look at what Zeldin had to say.
“While proposing an average increase of 8.19% to 9.31% for LIRR riders, the MTA offers zero data of total projected revenue estimated to be brought in through the drastic fare and toll hikes throughout the MTA region. It’s ironic that the press release is posted under the ‘transparency’ feature to the MTA’s website, when the MTA fails to make any mention of the projected fiscal impact of these hikes on its budget.”
Zeldin cannot be forgiven for not paying attention as MTA CEO and Chairman Joe Lhota has said over and over again that each fare hike proposal will generate approximately $277 million in annual revenue for the MTA. If I know that, our elected officials should know that as well. He continues:
“While the MTA states that ‘year over year controllable costs’ have been reduced by 0.3%, there is still much more work to be done. Some of the areas ripe for further efficiencies include further reducing overtime, decreasing the number of excessive salaries over $200,000, reforming work rules, selling additional real estate, reducing the excessive number of managers and supervisors, and so much more.”
Here, Zeldin isn’t wrong, but he’s not right either. The MTA has already drastically reduced overtime expenditures, and at some point, it’s actually more cost-efficient to pay time-and-a-half for overtime than it is to hire new employees. Some of this other critiques — particularly with regard to reforming work rules — require action from Albany, and I have yet to see Zeldin take an active role in anything resembling work rule reform. Selling real estate is a one-time fix for a systemic problem. He went on:
The days are over for $2 billion taxpayer funded bailouts with no questions asked. Meanwhile, we are also not going to play the victim against sustained threats of significant fare and toll hikes or dramatic reductions of service as the primary alternatives. The time has come for the MTA to do more to look within for cost savings and start running more like a competitive business, than a bloated government bureaucracy.”
Zing! The only thing missing here from Bash-the-MTA Bingo is a claim of two sets of books. Here, it’s entirely unclear what Zeldin is talking about. Who’s playing the victim against threats of anything? The MTA is raising fares because it has to generate a few hundred million dollars, and they’ve laid those figures out on the table. If anything, this is classic victim-blaming by a State Senator.
It’s worth remember too what Zeldin has done as a State Senator. He ran for office on a platform focusing around repealing the MTA Payroll Mobility Tax, and he succeeded in rolling back approximately $300 million of that tax — coincidentally the same amount the MTA has to raise for this fare hike. Not satisfied, he has continued to call for a further reduction in the payroll tax rate without offering any substantial changes or sources of revenue in return. For this Long Island representative, it’s all been about blame without accepting any responsibility to dictate sound transportation policy, and he’s at it again.
New York, these are your politicians.