As the MTA bailout plan dies its slow death and the MTA Board prepares to move forward with its Doomsday budget plan, city commentators are gearing up to wage a war of words against the New York State Senate.
Nicole Gelinas, an editor for City Journal, roundly criticized the Senate in today’s Post. While the Senate, she notes, wants to exact concessions in the form of MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander’s job, the Senators are the ones who should losing their jobs. She writes:
So after months of stalling, Albany has reportedly decided that the problem with the state-controlled Metropolitan Transportation Authority is its management. If so, it’s a fatal misreading by Gov. Paterson – and New Yorkers should start to worry fiercely about the subways and the rest of our transit infrastructure…
This is simply bizarre. By any fair reading, the MTA’s woes aren’t current management’s fault. The authority’s biggest problem is the massive amounts of debt it took on years ago, in the Pataki era. Politicos, including then-Executive Director Marc Shaw, forced that debt to bloat knowing full well that it would blow up after they had left.
At the time, everyone – from liberal transit advocates to conservative fiscal watchdogs – warned unanimously that this debt was a disaster scheduled to blow up around . . . now. Yet the MTA willfully hurt itself, its riders and the city to keep the pols happy.
In fact, current management has been making a good effort to cut back costs to pay all of that debt without hurting customers too much – making the back office take twice its proportional fair share of cuts, for example. And the MTA, over the last two years, has credibly started long-overdue savings reforms, like merging back offices that were the legacy of the separate transit systems New York used to have before creating the MTA – four decades ago.
More alarming to Gelinas is what this bit of politicking could mean for the future of the MTA. She worries:
If the talk is true, the immediate danger for the city is that Albany won’t be able to find someone to head the MTA with any real “experience” – because people with Pataki-era experience are those most responsible for commiting malpractice on the MTA via that horrible debt albatross. (Of course, Albany could hire these people back – but that would be worse than no experience.)
The longer-term – and graver – danger is that part of the reason that Paterson and the Legislature may force Sander out is that they just want someone to be much quieter about the region’s biggest risk: not fare hikes, but the MTA’s unfunded capital plan.
Her conclusion too is strong. “The bottom line,” she writes, “is that New York will never get the modern transit it needs unless some governor (likely pressured by a mayor) makes it clear to the public that it’s a huge priority for him – and then gives someone like Sander the years, resources and reasonable, accountable independence to do the job.”
There is absolutely nothing else to say here. The state’s system for dealing with the MTA is so far broken that the State Senators are considering doing something to “save” the MTA that would harm the agency for years to come. Until New Yorkers realize this and hold our elected responsible, we may as well get used to the idea of a $104 30-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard.