While much of the news focus surrounding the proposed 2009 MTA fare hike has focused on the burden this imposes on we the riders, every now and then, an astute editorial draws attention to the real issue: unacceptable levels of government subsidies for the MTA. Today’s comes to us from The New York Times’ editorial board:
Neither the city nor the state is paying its fair share, despite what they claim. With the Metropolitan Transportation Authority facing a budget gap of nearly $1 billion next year, direct subsidies from both governments last year totaled about $600 million, not much more than what they were a decade ago, according to the nonpartisan Independent Budget Office. Adjusted for inflation, subsidies have actually declined, saddling riders with an ever-increasing burden.
The main problem is that New York’s state legislators have failed to put a dependable source of financing — like congestion pricing — in place. Transit has been forced to rely on fluctuating taxes from real estate and other sources and, increasingly, rising fares…
The M.T.A. has said it needs the city and state together to contribute an additional $300 million next year. State lawmakers say they are awaiting the recommendations of a commission led by Richard Ravitch, expected after the November elections. Mayor Michael Bloomberg insists that the city has already done its part, contributing $1.2 billion last year.
But Mr. Bloomberg gets to his $1.2 billion figure by including not only the city’s direct subsidies, which are what really matters, but also an assortment of other kinds of payments that do not directly benefit the M.T.A. They include $344 million in interest payments on money the city borrowed for previous transit aid.
A safe, clean and reliable mass-transit system is not only environmentally sound; it is also essential to New York’s economy. We know the city and state have their own huge, looming budget gaps. But both need to dig deeper to keep mass transit moving.
I’m quoting at length here because the point is a very important one. The government — but the city and the state — need to find a way to fund our mass transit network. New York’s economy depends on it, and if these legislatures don’t kick back more money, the city, the region and the state will suffer.