From Rockland County, a silly call for a fare hike exemptionBy
Rockland County is at it again. The perennial anti-MTA leaders of this exurban region are once again making noises about transit policy. This time, County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, who, earlier this year, proposed withdrawing from the MTA, believes his area should be exempt from fare hikes, and his reasoning is just as spurious this time as it was in March.
In a letter to MTA officials, Vanderhoef argues that Rockland County pays more to the MTA than it receives in services. It must be subsidizing something, but what?! Let’s find out. First, Vanderhoef’s argument:
Regarding the proposed fare increases: I believe the suburbs need to pay their fair share for the MTA services they receive both in their communities, and for those services that residents use when they are in the City. That said, Rockland County residents pay $108 million each year to the MTA. The problem is this: Rockland County’s “share” is far from “fair” because we only get about $68 million in value back from MTA each year. That leaves us with a $40 million value “gap” [MTA Value Gap Analysis (February 2012)]. Public documents, commissioned studies and MTA’s own reports have consistently shown that Rockland County has been overpaying MTA in this manner for more than 25 years.
Perhaps a few of you may feel inclined to dismiss Rockland County’s $40 million value “gap”, believing we should pay more because we are suburban and we benefit from and use other MTA services. Well, the value gap reports account for that, and there is still a gap. The latest report includes not only the “value” of rail services Rockland residents receive on the West side of the Hudson, but also the value of services on the East side, the value of NYC Transit services such as buses and subways, the value of the MTA’s bridges and tunnels, the value of MTA’s capital investments throughout the entire region, the value of MTA’s police department, and even the value of MTA’s administrative services. All told, about $68 million in annual “value” – a figure that actually (ironically) almost rivals our annual $40 million “gap”…
Common sense financial fairness would dictate, therefore, that Rockland County be exempt from the proposed fare increases. During my 20-year tenure as Rockland County Executive and a NYMTC Principal, it is with a deep conviction rooted in justice that I have fought for Rockland County’s fair share from the MTA. Rockland County is burdened by its orphan status as a New York community on the West side of the Hudson River – deep in NJ Transit territory. Rockland County’s “bi-state” political circumstance has resulted in decades of sub-par train service along with neglected and sub-par stations.
To make this argument Vanderhoef is relying largely on a study he commissioned earlier this year that supported his belief that Rockland County would be better off without the MTA. The MTA just laughed. In a statement to Capital New York, the Authority opined as such:
“Metro-North Railroad and the MTA’ss transportation network connect Rockland County to a $1.26 trillion regional economy, bringing enormous value to its residents and businesses in ways that are ignored by the flawed study referenced by County Executive Vanderhoef. Rockland residents enjoy higher property values, Rockland’s Metro-North commuters bring home higher salaries, and Rockland’s overall economy benefits from the regional economy and its robust transportation system. Rockland’s contribution to the M.T.A. supports its entire system, benefiting even the Rockland residents who commute to NYC by car and who wouldn’t be employed as police officers or firemen or construction workers or teachers in New York City if there were no MTA to make the City run.”
But what of this so-called value gap? To a certain degree, it exists, and that’s where Cap’n Transit comes in. The answer, you will be not at all shocked to hear, involves debt. Here’s his take:
Sure enough, Rockland’s share of the MTA’s $1.91 billion debt service comes out to $41.9 million. The so-called “value gap” is just Rockland’s share of the bond payments. The Cambridge Systematics report didn’t pick up on that because they decided from the beginning to ignored debt service. Oh, and all this debt was racked up under Vanderhoef’s comrade in arms Governor George Pataki, who Rockland voted for in 1994, 1996 and 2002.
As Rubenstein pointed out, Vanderhoef has been complaining that the MTA short-changes Rockland since 1997. It probably wasn’t true then, and it’s definitely not true now. I’m glad she’s found people to call him on this, but none of them seem to pick up on the point that the entire “value gap” is nothing but payments on the debt that Vanderhoef himself supported.
Should Rockland get better transit service? Absolutely. But not to make things equal, just to fix the county’s broken transportation system.
There’s no value gap; there’s just a debt gap.
So what do you with Rockland County? Vanderhoes has been the County Executive since 1994 and shows no signs of leaving any time soon. Should we let Rockland County secede from the MTA and remove its transit service? That could send a lesson but would harm its residents. Perhaps, then, we should just let him rant, knowing that no one is listening or taking him all that seriously.