When the federal government approved the stimulus package, the money was supposed to go to shovel-ready projects that could spur on the economy. At the same time, many local entities are relying on stimulus dollars to cover budget gaps. The MTA is no exception.
A report released late last week by the New York Building Congress accuses New York-based agencies — including the MTA — of hoarding federal stimulus dollars. While $1.57 billion have been siphoned our way and New York City Transit has secured nearly half of that for work on the Fulton St. Transit Center and the Second Ave. Subway, the money is just sitting there. In fact, according to report, New York City Transit has yet to spend a single dollar of federal stimulus funds.
Meanwhile, the NYCB report goes in depth on the spending breakdown. The Fulton St. project has received $423.4 million for the rehabilitation of the mezzanine connecting the 4/5 with the A/C platforms and for the construction of the Dey St. corridor. The Second Ave. Subway has received $276 million with $197 million going toward the construction of the station at 96th St. The rest of the federal stimulus money earmarked for New York City Transit will go toward the rehabilitation of stations in Brooklyn.
According to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, 44 stimulus projects have been approved, but little to money money has been spent by either Transit or the NYC Department of Transportation on its projects. Building Congress President Richard Anderson expressed his dismay with this turn of events. “It has been almost six months since Congress and the Obama administration approved the stimulus package, yet close to nothing has been expended on the capital side,” he said.
“We have seen a good deal of spending on workforce programs and health and social services,” he continued. “Unfortunately, those expenditures do not provide the same bang for the stimulus buck as direct construction spending, which creates jobs and revenues while pumping money into the broader economy. It is incumbent upon our elected leaders and agency heads to get these dollars flowing directly into the projects already approved and likely to be approved in the coming months.”
The economics behind the stimulus dollars are a bit more complicated though. While the MTA is using federal stimulus dollars for their so-called shovel-ready projects, the problem is one of accounting. The MTA can’t currently spend $423.4 million on the Fulton St. project in six months’ time. They can’t take the $197 million earmarked toward the Second Ave. Subway’s 96th St. station to start construction because the project simply isn’t at that stage yet.
Instead, the agency is using stimulus dollars to keep these capital construction projects funded to completion. The jobs will be there in the future, but the level of staffing will remain fairly consistent right now. In the end, this isn’t a failing on the part of the MTA; it’s a failing on the part of those doling out federal stimulus dollars. The oversight and requirements for spending weren’t rigorous enough to ensure that public authorities use the money now instead of on the typically slow public authority time frame.