MTA Board set to vote on $32 billion capital plan with a large funding gap

By · Published in 2014

MTACapPlan Update (4:00 p.m.): The full proposal for the MTA’s 2015-2019 Capital Plan has been posted online in pdf form. You can read the glorious details as the MTA plans to spend over $30 billion on repairs and expansion work it and New York cannot afford to delay. I’m particularly intrigued by the gondola proposal on page 228 of the packet. Read on for my take on the whole thing.

* * *
It takes a lot of gumption to ask for approval to spend $29 billion, but that’s what the MTA is poised to do on Wednesday. As the last item on the agenda for this week’s Board meeting, the MTA’s fiduciaries will vote to approve all $32 billion of the 2015-2019 capital plan, including a request to the state’s Capital Program Review Board to approve $29 billion of the plan. It is the MTA’s most costly plan in the 30+ year history of five-year spending programs and arguably one the agency needs to see approved the most. It should usher in a new discussion focusing around the question of just how we’re going to pay for all of this.

The two-page staff summary included as the final pages in this month’s Board books list out the planned expenditures, and although I’m still anticipating some fancy materials from the MTA detailing the spending plans, we have a glimpse of the various priorities to anticipate the full-court press. The MTA plans to spend over $23 billion on the so-called “core program” which includes rolling stock and vehicle purchases, PTC and CBTC installations, an indeterminate number of Select Bus Service routes, a contactless fare payment system, double-tracking the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma branch and, for some reason, Help Point intercoms at every subway station.

Another $5.5 billion will be spent on the sexier stuff. This request includes money to finish (ha ha) East Side Access, money to start Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway which would bring the line north to Lexington and 125th St., and money to add four Metro-North stations and bring the rail line into Penn Station. (That plan, called Penn Station Access is a minefield for New York State and City political interests.) The final $3.1 billion, which doesn’t require CPRB approval, will go toward the MTA’s bridges and includes money for open-road tolling at the Henry Hudson Bridge, a sign that the ongoing pilot has been a success.

So that’s the good. How about the bad? According to the MTA, they’ve managed to cobble together barely half of the money needed to fund this beast. They get a meager $657 million from the city, a few billion dollars from the feds, $6 billion in bonding, $3 billion in local funds, and $200 million from developers earmarked toward station improvement. All in, this leaves a funding gap of $15.2 billion, also the largest in MTA capital plan history.

To address this gap, the MTA proposes two solutions, and it is the closest the MTA comes to an ultimatum on requesting money from Albany:

“The MTA will work with its funding partners and stakeholders to developer proposals to fill this gap from the system’s many beneficiaries, including such option as dedicated revenue sources, partnerships that leverage private investment, additional appropriations from state, federal and local governmental partners, or new MTA debt…In the alternative, the gap can be overcome by reducing the size of the proposed programs, or increasing fares and tolls, or a combination of these options.

Fully funding the proposed Capital Program is critical to enabling the MTA to renew, enhance, and expand its to meet the mobility needs of the region. A reduced program will not keep pace with state of good repair renewal needs, adversely impacting the MTA’s ability to continue delivering safe and reliable service at current levels, and would compromise the ability to deliver enhancement and expansion projects that address the evolving needs of MTA customers and the region and to make the MTA system more resilient.”

“Dedicated revenue sources” might as well be an indirect call for Albany to debate some sort of congestion pricing plan or Sam Schwartz’s MOVE NY proposal, and I wonder if this extremely expensive and extremely underfunded five-year capital plan will finally push the state down this inevitable path of most resistance. If so, you won’t hear a peep about the MTA’s 2015-2019 capital plan until after Election Day, and even then, such a funding proposal won’t go down easy. It may, though, be the only one around a gaping hole that amounts to $15.2 billion and won’t get much smaller.

44 Responses to “MTA Board set to vote on $32 billion capital plan with a large funding gap”

  1. Jim D. says:

    My thoughts exactly – with the governor’s pet Tappan Zee Bridge project now a half billion dollars in the hole thanks to the EPA, the state is going to have to get creative to fill these funding gaps.

    • al says:

      Devolve the new projects to competitive PPP contracts. The old NYC BOT and IRT/BRT did very well building out much of the subway infrastructure. Similarly, the private consortiums that finance and built the East River Bridges operated similarly to utilities.

      Get the foreign parent companies that have bought out local/regional A/E firms and contractors to bring in their expertise they gained from building metro/rail projects overseas. They might have bought the local players to feast on the overly expensive projects, but its time to get them to compete and get the costs down.

      finally, we need to attack Not Invented here and similar notions like we fight a Plague.

    • LLQBTT says:

      Creative? Maybe the EPA will fund the MTAs capital plan. It doesn’t hurt for Andy to ask. Worse they can do is say no.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Andy probably doesn’t understand that transit is actually rationally related to good environment policy.

        • AG says:

          Well if they would have included rail and BRT over the bridge – maybe they could have used that argument with the EPA

          • Bolwerk says:

            I’m not sure. It’s not like it automatically leads to better land-use policies west of the Hudson. It probably has no effect on traffic into New York City. Not to say rail on the TZB is inherently bad, but its environmental impact is probably pretty neutral. Maybe even harmful if it stimulates car-dependent growth in Rockland and Orange.

            But something like the SAS means NYC can grow in a sustainable and basically environmentally positive way.

            • AG says:

              I fail to see how it could stimulate more “car related growth in Rockland and Orange”… They are not going to be building than they already have been.

              I’m also not sure what that bridge has to do with SAS. The MTA is responsible for transit in the metro area. NYC and the suburbs.

              • Bolwerk says:

                People in the ‘burbs might commute into the city by train, but drive for every other trip. Good planning can mitigate that, but it’s a risk with a TZB rail implementation, especially when there are NIMBYs about.

    • Alex C says:

      The only creativity Cuomo will show is in trying to funnel money from the MTA budget to pay for the bridge monument to himself.

  2. Larry Littlefield says:

    How about doing the same stuff for less money?

    At some point those who take money out of the public sector here — public employee retirees and their unions, contractors, etc. — are going to have to realize that they have become so much richer than everyone else that everyone else can’t afford them anymore. This has actually been true for a long time, but covered over by debt and pension underfunding.

    Which is exactly the situation the one percent find themselves in. They got that rich by paying ordinary Americans less and still selling them more, with the difference covered by debt(public and private) and the failure of several generations to save for retirement. Now those generations are going to retire into poverty, and people are broke. Thus weak consumer demand, a stagnant economy, and no idea what to do about it.

    Unless and until people are willing to call these groups out, there really is no hope to avoid the eventual collapse.


  3. Larry Littlefield says:

    I will also say this. For decades, two of them in the case of the MTA, Generation Greed has robbed our future. And they are still in charge — in Albany, Washington, and the executive suite.

    Will Sheldon Silver, Dean Skelos and Andrew Cuomo now step up and decide who is going to be made worse off, and in what way, because of what has been done? Or just keep grabbing from an ever-more diminished future?

    (And if you don’t think the future is diminished, that’s because you aren’t paying attention to what is going on in the vast majority of the U.S. where you don’t have young victims pouring in to support the economy and pay taxes with less and less in return).

    • Bolwerk says:

      Young people are lazy parasites who don’t want to work. True fact!

    • Nathanael says:

      Cuomo is excreable. If he died tomorrow it would not soon enough.

      I’ve been following what he did with Medicaid Non-emergency Transportation Funding — he forced all the upstate counties to pay for taxis for the disabled to get to doctors appointments instead of buses. This *raises* the costs, while causing severe cuts in every rural bus system (Tioga County just eliminated its bus system entirely). Plus which, the taxi services are considered awful by the people who need them (because the taxis often have to come from the next county over, and the drivers have a bad attitude).

      So, worse service to the patients, costs more to the counties, and destroys the bus service which was also available to everyone else.

      And of course this is the same Cuomo who invented the sick “tax cap”, so the extra costs are going to be very, very hard for the counties to fund. They’re already cutting police & fire services (because those aren’t required by the state!)

      The elimination of bus service is going to leave a lot of people in the rural counties with no options. For now, they’ll just be trapped in their houses; eventually they’ll probably start moving Dust Bowl style.

      I hope Cuomo gets sick and dies. He is a heartless monster. He’s helping push this country towards dystopia.

      But hey, there’s big money going to a private taxi dispatching company, so someone’s looting the government! Ka-ching! Succcess!

  4. AG says:

    The annoying reality is that the economic engine of the state is the NYC metro area. It shouldn’t even be a question. That’s not to say finding private money and cutting labor costs aren’t important. However – this shouldn’t be political – but simple “business” sense.

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      If the MTA was run like business it would do what a business with an unsustainable debt and pension load does. Go Chapter 11 and negotiate a workout.

      “This shouldn’t be political”

      This is about who should be screwed for what Generation Greed has done for 20 years, and when. That isn’t political? Then what it is? Philosophical?

      • Alex C says:

        It’s both, really. I agree 100% with what you’ve said in these comments, and would add such a “philosophical” point. Politicians like Cuomo see public transit as a welfare program for the unwashed masses that don’t drive. Running public transit into the ground isn’t really even a bad thing for Cuomo and the state assembly. They don’t like transit and don’t want it around because they see it as a handout to people they wouldn’t come within 20 feet of.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I don’t know about that. I actually find myself wondering exactly WTF Cuomo is thinking a lot of the time. Obviously he likes cars, and makes no secret of it, but that’s not exactly a politically risky position. Given his positions on TZB and charter schools, he’s not even averse to spending public money rather wastefully under the right political circumstances.

          I tend more toward the view he just doesn’t give a shit, and maybe he has enough of Robert Moses-esque liberal noblesse oblige to think he overwhelmingly knows what’s best for us anyway. But it’s very hard to say! The thing is, he never had to really take a position on anything very publicly because, well, his first opponent was the mentally ill Paladino and this election cycle he got away with basically ignoring Teachout and Astorino.

          • Alex C says:

            He’s made it clear that he truly doesn’t give a damn about anything other than promoting his name and doing the bidding of campaign donors. Actively trying to dissolve public education for the benefit of corporate charter schools is about as bad as it gets, and he boasts about doing it because his shtick is to appeal to Wall Street. Regarding transit, I think it is mostly just not caring, because he truly sees it as irrelevant, but there is definitely dislike for it on his end. Remember that he thinks so little of people who use transit he tried to basically buy votes and make the A and R “Free” for a day, thinking it would be a nice giveaway to people who would clap like seals for him. That, and he likes to use the MTA as a piggy bank and has basically made Pentergast and de Blasio his gimps.

            • Nathanael says:

              I don’t think Cuomo cares about anything at all. I also don’t think he thinks about anything at all; he appears to be brain-damaged (lead fumes from his auto hobby?).

              He’s certainly doing his best to make himself a toxic, unelectable candidate on the national level: every single local party machine hates him for the way he’s abused the local governments, so he’s gonna have a lot of knives out for him if he tries to run for any higher office.

              Vote Howie Hawkins in November. He’s a decent guy. I don’t really care if it’s a protest vote, we could use some protest voting at this point.

              As for Astorino, he’s probably worse than Cuomo… But the only distinction between the two which I can find is that Astornio is pro-fracking. Cuomo refuses to commit either way on fracking, so if Cuomo gets re-elected he’ll probably be pro-fracking too.

              On every other issue, Cuomo and Astorino seem identical — they even both promote Republican candidates for the state legislature!

          • LLQBTT says:

            My belief is that everything he does has the White House in mind. Now sometimes things don’t always work out favorably e.g. Moreland Commission (see also Bridgegate for Christie).

            • Bolwerk says:

              If that’s so, he’s doing a shitty job.

              He doesn’t seem very bright or charismatic, like Obama, even if their politics are similar, so he won’t have a good ground game. He doesn’t have Schitt Romney’s deep pockets to buy a major party nomination, or the advantage Romney had of being the only resourceful/sane person seeking his party’s nomination. He lacks the technocratic aptitudes of Bloomberg (even if Bloomberg’s were often illusory too, he was good at faking it). He bucks his own party sometimes, but he hardly does it for populist reasons like Bill Clinton would. He doesn’t have Hillary’s connections or starpower, and probably never will. He’s not wonky like Gore or Bush Sr. or particularly good at being a fake everyman like Bush Jr. or Carter.

              The only thing sorta presidential about him is he’s a bit Teflony like Reagan I guess. Otherwise, I’d put his odds of becoming President around where I put Biden’s. And, at his age, he has maybe three good shots left.

              • Nathanael says:

                Cuomo has made every single elected official in local government really, really mad at him, particularly the ones in the Democratic Party. He’s pulled so much bullshit which damaged local government (both upstate and downstate).

                That doesn’t seem like a good way to build party machine support, does it? It doesn’t to me.

                In addition, like you said, he’s not charismatic (no mass popular support), he’s stupid (no winning by competence), and he isn’t filthy rich.

                I don’t see how he even gets nominated to higher office; actually, I’m a little surprised he managed to buy off enough party members to get renominated for Governor, given how many elected officials he’s backstabbed.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  Well, he was nominated in the aftermath of Spitzer’s scandal and the following dysfunction under Paterson (which wasn’t Paterson’s fault per se). He was low-key and polling way ahead in an off year against a mentally ill guy, I guess largely because of his daddy’s name. Somehow his popularity kept up!

                  He’s still popular-ish for some reason, but my guess is he’ll deflate fast if/when he loses that popularity just like Christie did. He’s not so different from Christie really, just not so bombastic.

                  I’m not sure he’s entirely stupid either. He’s not an intellectual, but he seems to have a good grip on politicking.

                  • Alex C says:

                    His strength, from what I can tell, is using every dirty trick in the book to intimidate and force others to support him. There’s a reason he and his cronies use private email addresses to conduct public business. Look how quickly he broke de Blasio. Bill de Blasio doesn’t so much as sneeze these days without asking Cuomo for permission. Pentergast is the same (his comment about Cuomo funding the MTA well was hilarious). Cuomo is a mob boss, pure and simple; it’s why him and Christie are such great friends and have the complete support of Wall Street and corporate America.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Heh, well, in fairness, de Blasio is the sycophantic yin to local right-wingers’ yang. He capitulates to them almost every time, and they’re still pathologically dissatisfied with him. Getting him to roll over was probably one of Cuomo’s easier moves, given that NYC mayors have been at least sort of in thrall to governors since at least Rockefeller.

            • Bolwerk says:

              Cuomo doesn’t even have circumstances on his side. No unpopular incumbent to face this cycle, like Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani had. No crime drop to pretend to be responsible for, like Clinton and Giuliani’s releection cycles. No economic boom to pretend to be responsible for, again like Clinton and Giuliani’s reelection cycle. No fake good job preventing a second 9/11, like GWB in 2004.

              Reality is conspiring against him. 🙁

              • Alex C says:

                But those corporate CEOs bragging on the TV about not having to pay taxes in NY tell me Andy Cuomo is great! How am I, an average slob, supposed to not adore the Governor?

  5. Jonas says:

    I caught that MTA is proposing to build the Elmhurst LIRR station (on page 20 of the report)…media hasn’t picked this story up…any further details?

  6. Larry Littlefield says:

    So they want to spend all the future payroll tax revenues over the next five years, leaving future New Yorkers to pay that tax with nothing in return while Generation Greed moves to Florida.

    How evil is that? Have Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos bought their properties in the Villages yet? What state will their children live in? And what final massive retroactive pension enhancement will they enact on their way out the door?

    “The payroll mobility tax is settled law and is a vital component of MTA funding,” Lisberg said. “What is most important to the MTA is that we get a stable and sustainable funding source to continue driving the engine of the New York economy.”

    And yet by the time this capital plan ends, it appears the MTA will be able to do JUST FINE without it, because all the money will be going to interest payments. I wonder whose idea this is?

    Jim Brennan? Cuomo? Silver and Skelos? The MTA Board has been selling our future on behalf of the statebags for 20 years. Every time they do it they say “we can’t bond anymore.”

    The latest MTA puppet told the state legislature that borrowing for maintenance was a “recipe for failure.” I thought he finally meant that it was bad, not “here is the recipe by which we can cash in now by ensuring failure later.”

  7. AgentOtis says:

    “Dedicated revenue sources” might as well be an indirect call for Albany to debate some sort of congestion pricing plan…

    Why must drivers be forced to pay more on behalf of transit riders instead of making transit riders foot the bill? It’s NY – people are not going to abandon the MNRR en masse to drive from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan, search two hours for a place to park on the street or sign over their first born to park in a garage.

    So why not make the MNRR riders pay for this work instead of finding creative ways to make us drivers put more money on our EZPasses?

    • Bolwerk says:

      It’s because drivers are parasitic assholes who elect parasitic assholes who then parasitically make rules that make transit more expensive than it needs be to operate and build. Since they’re the ones responsible, the least they could do is pay for the extra costs.

      (Yes, I’m joking. Sort of.)

    • AG says:

      …. as it is now it’s just a road bridge… assuming you mean the TPZ replacement. In any event – drivers don’t pay for everything either.

  8. Austin says:

    I guess Fulton Street has run into a few challenges:

    “Construction for both the Fulton Center and the #7 line extension is nearing completion, with opening day planned for late 2104 and early 2015 respectively.”

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