Mayor, Governor agree on funding plan to cover MTA capital budget gap but many questions remainBy
In a rare moment of political collaboration that ends months of unnecessary bickering, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have agreed on a funding scheme that will close the MTA’s capital budget gap, the Governor’s office announced this afternoon. As part of the agreement, the city will contribute $2.5 billion to the 2015-2019 plan, and the MTA will trim $700 million from the spending plan through either “further efficiencies or necessary program reductions.” Although numerous questions remain regarding this deal, the MTA will likely not have to slow down or suspend work on ongoing capital work, and the summer (and early autumn) of endless finger-pointing can draw to a close.
“Our transit system is the backbone of New York City’s, and our entire region’s, economy,” the mayor said in a statement. “That is why we’re making an historic investment – the City’s largest ever general capital contribution – while ensuring that NYC dollars stay in NYC transit, and giving NYC riders and taxpayers a stronger voice. I look forward to continuing to partner with the Governor and the MTA to ensure a transit system that reliably, effectively, and safely serves all of its riders.”
As announced by Cuomo, the deal includes the $8.3 billion from the state to which the governor agreed in July, the $2.5 billion from the city and numerous conditions that may or may not have teeth. According to the press release, the city money includes $1.9 billion from “direct City sources” and $600 million from “alternative non tax levy revenue sources” (such as those funding the Grand Central upgrades). The entire agreement is also dependent upon a series of conditions though if one party breaks a condition, it’s highly unlikely that the plan will fall apart. The conditions are as follows:
- The City and State will fund on the same schedule on a proportionate basis.
- Projects in the City which are funded by the $2.5 billion committed by the City (including projects funded through non tax levy sources agreed to with the MTA) will be planned by the MTA Board in collaboration with the City representatives on the MTA Board, with priority consideration given for projects and timing based on input from the City.? Likewise suburban projects which are funded by the suburbs will be planned by the MTA Board in collaboration with suburban representatives on the MTA Board and with priority consideration given for projects and timing based on input from the those suburban communities.
- The State will not divert any funds or fail to provide any funding committed to this Capital Program or due and owing to the MTA for any other expenses unless in accordance with the provisions of Executive Law 182 passed in 2011. Likewise, the City will not divert any funds or fail to provide any funding committed to this Capital Program or due and owing to the MTA for any other expenses.
Let’s start with the lockbox: This prong of the agreement is entirely pointless. Generally, Cuomo has gone after MTA operations money and not MTA capital money. Additionally, this is an agreement to adhere to a law that has no teeth. Cuomo has in fact raided MTA money since signing the lockbox bill, and nothing in this agreement will prevent him from doing the same. Whether that’s a risk the MTA will take in exchange for a guarantee of over $8 billion is a question to consider.
Meanwhile, the other conditions are words on paper, and it seems as though de Blasio got outmaneuvered at a time when he could have put his foot down on MTA doings. It’s unlikely that city officials will force changes to the MTA’s capital plan as many of the big-ticket items, including Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway, are already subway-related. So what did de Blasio get, other than a $2.5 billion bill and months of media boxing with someone who seemingly outfoxed him?
Still, there’s a palatable sense of relief over the fact that this is, for now, over. Yes, the city and state legislatures still need to approve funding sources (as the Citizens Budget Commission reminded us in a statement released via Facebook photo), but that’s a fait accompli at this point. We’ll have to see if the repeated statements that there is “no appetite” in Albany for a congestion pricing plan hold up, but one way or another, the spending will get approved, and the MTA can move forward without on pause on work that must be completed. As Gene Russianoff said in the Straphangers’ statement praising the deal, “Hallelujah!”