At the end of last week on a Friday during the summer, a few anonymous MTA officials dropped a story on Pete Donohue. The MTA, they said, is not-so-quietly considering a fare hike for 2009 to meet operating budget deficits that will exceed tens of millions of dollars.
On Wednesday, with MTA CEO and Executive Director Lee Sander testifying in front of the New York State Assembly’s Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, agency officials dropped any pretense of anonymity and flat-out toward the gathered assembly members that a 2009 fare hike will be necessary if the agency doesn’t see more money flowing its way.
Times reporters William Neuman and Jeremy Peters tell the sad but expected tale:
The executive director, Elliot G. Sander, said that the transportation authority faced an operating deficit of as much as $500 million to $700 million next year and that it would “have no option” but to raise fares in 2009 if it did not receive considerable outside financial assistance.
“Our hope is for additional support from Albany and other partners,” Mr. Sander said, speaking in Albany at a hearing of the State Assembly’s Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. “If we do not have funding from our outside partners, then the only recourse the M.T.A. has is to raise fares, engage in service cutbacks and cutting staff.”
The authority previously proposed raising fares in 2010, as part of what it said would be a series of regular, moderate increases every two years. But an increase next year would disrupt that initiative before it even started.
Now, MTA haters will be quick to unleash familiar refrains: The MTA has no budget accountability; the MTA has no idea how to balance its books. And while I’m not usually one to leap to the MTA’s rescue, it’s clear from Sander’s testimony that this was a largely unexpected fiscal problem (and one that could have been averted through congestion pricing).
As I’ve noted before, the MTA’s expected revenue from the real estate tax is nearly $100 million below expected levels, and as Sander said today, their fuel expenditures are already 17 percent over budget. Oil prices are heading in only one direction these days, and it isn’t down.
So the MTA has a valid excuse. Now though the ball is firmly in the Assembly’s court. During the congestion pricing debate, numerous elected representatives — and, most vocally, Richard Brodsky — told the MTA that, to get more money from the state, all Lee Sander had to do was ask. As Jay Gallagher at The Journal-News’ Politics on the Hudson blog reported yesterday, that’s exactly what Sander did. “I am asking the Legislature and the governor for more financial support,’’ he said to Brodsky’s committee.
So what say you, Mr. Brodsky? The MTA has laid out its case, and the city’s vital transportation authority has found itself up the proverbial creek with nary a paddle in sight. Will Brodsky keep his word or will he just renege on yet another transit-related promise in the area?
Fare hike 2009, here we come.