It’s no secret these days that the MTA is in financial trouble. While the word bankruptcy hasn’t been tossed around yet, with the agency facing a few billion dollars in debt, we’re probably not too far away from that point. But an unlikely source of funds — in the form of pork — may be riding to the rescue soon.
Yesterday, in The Observer, Eliot Brown summed up the financial straits in which the MTA currently finds itself. For the most part, Brown rehashes territory familiar to loyal SAS readers: The MTA doesn’t have a dedicated source of revenue outside of the volatile real estate taxes. Having spend years borrowing to fund both ambitious capital plans and operating budgets, the agency finds itself on the edge of a massive financial crisis.
But Brown touches upon a new source of potential revenue in the form of senior Democrat and chair of the House Transportation Committee Jerrold Nadler, one of the most influential New Yorkers in the House. Writes Brown:
At the center of the Congressional efforts is Mr. Nadler, the infrastructure devotee who is now the most senior Democrat from the Northeast on the House Transportation Committee, which is slated to reauthorize a 12-figure, six-year transportation bill in 2009 that would likely steer substantial money to the M.T.A.
“What helps is that not only am I very senior, but compared to five years ago or six years ago, we’re in the majority now, not the minority, and we have five Democrats from New York on the committee,” he said.
The M.T.A. is planning on more than $8 billion from the federal government, an amount Mr. Nadler said seemed reasonable. But much will depend on who wins the presidential election.
The presidential comment, by the way, is way anyone who cares about the New York City subways should take a good long look at the public transit policies of Barack Obama.
Anyway, the MTA is now relying on a substantial federal contribution which basically amounts to a big barrel of pork for the region from Nadler. They’re also hoping for a magically monetary solution from Richard Ravitch. Meanwhile, as MTA CEO Elliot Sander noted in Brown’s article, the agency can’t really trim the internal fat anymore. “The M.T.A. has already taken significant steps to tighten our belts,” Sander said to Brown.
This is, of course, a risky strategy for the MTA. While Nadler’s promise is refreshing and one our representatives in Albany should adopt, the federal transportation has a long way to go before funds reach New York City. The bills will have to clear the House and the Senate, and a president — Bush or whoever wins in November — will have to sign off on the bill. If John McCain captures the White House, it won’t be a result of any voters in New York.
The promised money from Nadler is a start, and it’s refreshing to hear from a New York politician who is willing to get money into the coffers of those agencies who need it. But I’m afraid that this might be too little, too late. We need Albany to take the MTA’s financial situation seriously. We need more money for our transit network before it gets much worse.