The Comptrollers are revolting. (Well, then, maybe they should shower. I’ll be here all week.)
Nearly three weeks after New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., issued a report on how the MTA could avoid a fare hike, the State Comptroller Thomas P. Napoli has issued a similar finding. He says that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority should hold off on its fare hike until the agency can huddle with city and state legislatures to develop a cohesive plan to financing public transportation that doesn’t unfairly burden the riders.
Citing the need to wait until after the congestion pricing panel issues its findings and recommendations, Napoli was fairly critical of the MTA’s willingness to move forward with a fare hike. From his office’s press release:
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority should hold off on its fare hike plans until after the City and the State have fully considered the recommendations of the recently established congestion pricing commission and the MTA’s proposed five-year capital program, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said in a report released today. The MTA has proposed raising fares and tolls in early 2008 and again in 2010 to help address sizeable looming budget gaps.
“The MTA should put New York’s commuters first,” DiNapoli said. “Before the MTA asks for more money from straphangers, it should develop a coordinated strategy with the State and City to balance its operating budget and to finance the next five-year capital program. The MTA has taken some good first steps to develop a long-term plan for its future fiscal health. But talk of a fare hike is premature. The City is trying to reduce congestion and encourage greater use of mass transit. Any fare increase should be the last piece of a comprehensive plan, not the first.”
Napoli noted that, as many have observed said lately, the MTA doesn’t need the fare hike to run a balanced budget in 2008; the agency itself forecasts a net balance of $323 million.
We are grateful that Comptroller DiNapoli has acknowledged both the M.T.A.’s record ridership and the $6 billion in projected deficits we face over the next four years. These two factors dictate the fiscally responsible path we have proposed, which calls for internal belt tightening and contributions from all of our funding partners to address these deficits before they threaten service. The plan introduces stability and predictability to the fare structure by calling for biannual cost-of-living increases instead of much larger increases in crisis situations. The proposed financial plan accepts the M.T.A. responsibility to provide improved service to a rapidly growing city and region and acts immediately to put the agency on sound financial footing. Deferring the proposed 2008 fare and toll increase will only lead to more drastic increases and unacceptable service cuts in 2009.
In my view, the MTA’s release dances around the fact that both Comptroller’s have now told the MTA to ask for more money from the City and State. While Soffin cannot come out and lay the blame at the feet of politicians who have long stifled the MTA and have deprived the agency of its rightful funds, I hope the MTA is at least pursuing this course as well. It’s better to beg hat-in-hand in Albany than it is to stick the straphangers with another fare hike.
- Although the MTA’s July Plan forecasts a record year-end cash balance of $960 million for 2007, it expects budget gaps to grow to nearly $2.1 billion by 2011 from $965 million in 2008;
- Authority spending is projected to exceed the level projected by the MTA two years ago by an average of about $435 million during each of calendar years 2007 through 2009;
- The MTA saved only $12.3 million from management actions planned for 2006, which is just 41 percent of its target savings;
- The MTA will need $18.8 billion to maintain the existing mass transit system and additional funds to continue key expansion projects;
- Debt service — which is expected to grow to $2 billion by 2011 from $1.3 billion in 2006 — and health insurance costs will grow to account for nearly half of the 2011 budget gap; and,
- The MTA plan to narrow the out-year gaps assumes it will receive more than $600 million annually in new governmental aid beginning in 2010. If these or other anticipated resources do not materialize, the MTA will face budget gaps that exceed $1 billion beginning in 2010. Closing a gap of this magnitude would require fare and toll increases of 20 percent on top of the MTA’s proposal to raise fares and tolls by 11.5 percent by 2010.