For the last two and a half weeks, New Yorkers have been bombarded with Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to Reform the MTA. Constant TV and radio ads as well as a ubiquitous Internet campaign have left astute political observers with little doubt about Bloomberg’s plan. From the pandering to the practical and everything in between, I’ve given Bloomberg’s the plan the once-over as well.
Yesterday, though, New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer succinctly eviscerated Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to mass transit. He did so in a piece ostensibly about the ceiling collapse at 181st St., but a few paragraphs nearly overshadowed his overall point. Wrote Dwyer:
Under Mr. Bloomberg, what role has the city planned in subway maintenance? His priority has been to finance the expansion of the No. 7 line to the Far West Side of Manhattan — not to maintain the existing stations. The M.T.A. receives capital funds from a number of sources, including the city government. In the mid-1980s, the city contributed about $200 million annually, said Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign. In recent years, the city’s contribution has dropped to $75 million. Since the buying power of the dollar has eroded over the last 20 years, that means the city today is contributing only about 20 cents for every dollar it gave during the 1980s.
That last sentence says it all. Twenty years ago, the city would contribute five times as much money to the MTA than it does today. That $200 million in today’s dollars would be more than enough to issue bonds for construction projects, to close budget deficits, to upgrade technology. That $200 million would be a real commitment to mass transit from the mayor and the city of New York.
As Bloomberg gears up for his second reelection campaign, it is nearly inevitable that he will win. He has more money than Democratic hopeful William Thompson will ever see, and Thompson frankly is a dud of a candidate, barely able to keep reporters engaged for more than a story or two at a time.
It seems, though, that Bloomberg is hitching his ride to mass transit. He is committing to this MTA reform plan, and he is doing so in a very public matter. But as a wrote last week and as Dwyer noted yesterday, as long as the mayor continues to withhold city funding from the MTA, as long as he continues to dither over the 7 Line Extension, refuse to pony up money for student MetorCards and continue to hold city funding levels at 20 percent of what it was two decades ago, it’s hard to believe Bloomberg’s new found desire to fix transit in New York City.
Call my cynical or skepitcal, but it is all about the money. Right now, Bloomberg has the purse strings, and he’s not loosening them notwithstanding the populist anti-MTA rhetoric he will espouse until his reelection.