With both the City and State of New York facing precarious financial situations and the MTA’s deficit growing, money is tight across the board right now. With David Paterson in power, the MTA may have little choice but to raise fares. Little did we know, earlier this year, just how much Eliot Spitzer’s resignation would cost the MTA.
In a recent Newsday column, Anne Michaud explored the current relationship between the MTA and New York’s governor. Things could be better.
The story begins, in a way, with Eliot Spitzer’s long trumpeting mass transit and working closely with MTA CEO and Executive Director Lee Sander, a Spitzer appointee, to ensure a healthy transit system for New York City. The tale collapses in on itself when Spitzer is forced to resign just before congestion pricing — a potential dedicated revenue stream for the MTA — is set for a vote. The man who takes over, David Paterson, does not share the same relationship with Sander that Spitzer has.
It is in this shifting power that Michaud sees potentially dark days ahead for the MTA. She notes that Paterson has maintained something of an arm’s distance between his office and Sander. He did not intervene after Sander fielded criticism for a pay raise, and he spoke out, as he should have, against the MTA Board’s free perks. He has also second-guessed the MTA’s need for all of their fare hikes and in doing so, could be jeopardizing the future of some very big and very important projects. Write Michaud:
Transit advocates worry that, as a result, Sander will lose confidence to advocate for important projects in the next capital budget, such as the Third Track for the Long Island Rail Road. Now is an even more crucial moment for transportation than when Spitzer arrived as governor. As gas prices climb, all eyes are turning to urban-centric, transit-oriented development. Downtowns will not only be cool again, they will be essential.
Insiders say that Paterson is as committed as Spitzer was to keeping the MTA in a state of good repair. But it’s possible that, faced with difficult choices, the governor will choose to stretch out the completion date of some expansion projects such as the Second Avenue subway, East Side Access and the Third Track.
This alarming news brings us back to the current budget crunch. As Paterson struggles to find money for key services, he will look toward New York City’s transit network and view certain projects as expendable. He will tell — not ask — the MTA to defer maintenance and upgrades and delay capital construction efforts.
Again, our eyes will fall on Richard Ravitch to rescue the system. He’ll have to battle through a hostile legislature and a skeptical governor. Hopefully, he’s up for the job.