As Gov. David Paterson introduced Jay Walder as his pick to head the MTA, he expressed his desire to see the Senate rubber-stamp this appointee in short order. In fact, he was gunning for a Wednesday confirmation, but considering the pace of the State Senate these days and Paterson’s low approval ratings, Malcolm Smith and Pedro Espada aren’t rushing off to OK Walder quite yet.
In fact, the opposite is true. In a prepared statement co-signed by Smith, Espada, John Sampson and Carl Kruger, the Senate leadership warned of a protracted confirmation process:
With oversight responsibility and jurisdiction vested in the Senate, it is our responsibility to make sure the next MTA Chairman can run the ship better than his predecessors. As the recent MTA bailout debate proved – the MTA needs new management and must deliver greater transparency and accountability.
We intend to hold several joint hearings in the MTA region as we move forward with this confirmation. We look forward to meeting Mr. Walder and bringing him before our respective committees to exchange ideas about MTA management, the need to protect commuters from greater fare increases, and the imperative to improve service and better manage capital projects.
As the Senate heads to a summer recess soon, Walder’s confirmation will sit in limbo until the fall. That potential delay didn’t stop Kruger, one of the Fare Hike Four, from making an utter ass of himself. The Brooklyn native had a few choice comments about Walder’s promise of fiscal reform: “We’ll look at it over the course of the next couple of months,” he said. “I come from Missouri; don’t show me, tell me. I mean, everybody says they’re for oversight and accountability. What does that mean? What does it mean?”
Brad Aaron said it best: This news just writes itself sometimes.
Meanwhile, the real news from Walder’s press conference was his focus on fiscal responsibility and an adequately funded capital program. Right now, the MTA is on the verge of releasing its next five-year plan, but the agency has money for only the next two years. After that, the future is in limbo. “We must have a long-term financial solution for the MTA,” he said. “It’s critically important to have a capital program.”
The potential head of the MTA had a lot to say about fiscal balancing. Walder said that he may have to make some unpopular decisions concerning late-night service to keep fares affordable. He also expressed his belief that his new role — the joint Chair and CEO job — “is sufficiently independent to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions.”
As I mentioned briefly yesterday afternoon, one of those decisions, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, should be to eschew more debt service. The MTA’s capital campaigns have recently been funded through fare-backed bombs that come due over time and lead to crushing debt service payments and potentially crippling restructuring. Steven Higashide at Mobilizing the Region sums it up succinctly:
Like a hot potato, the debt bomb was passed from governor to govenor until it went off last year, creating a crisis that was barely averted through the efforts of an even larger coalition of advocates, officials, and members of the public. Having had the MTA debt bomb go off in his hands, Gov. Paterson surely understands that the worst course of action would be for he and MTA chief Jay Walder to light it again.
All of this, meanwhile, is just the beginning. Tuesday wasn’t even Jay Walder’s first day on the job, and already, he is getting himself a crash course in MTA politics and economics. Once the Senate realizes he’s the right man for the job, his education will begin in earnest.