Top: A view of the IRT Flushing Line in Queens around the time service began in the 1920s. Bottom: The same view only 20 years later.
Pop quiz: What mode of transportation moved New York City away from a lower Manhattan tenement-based city into the current sprawling metropolis it is today?
A. Our feet. People just loved to walk and discovered that Flushing isn’t actually that far from Manhattan.
C. Public transportation.
Considering the picture atop this pot, is it really a surprise that the answer is C? Although the automobile played a role in driving people away from the overcrowded conditions of Lower Manhattan, the subway — and the five-cent fare — made a dispersal of people to points north and east possible. Without the subway, New York’s eight million residents wouldn’t be able to live in Canarsie and work near Canal St. They wouldn’t commute from Forest Hills to the Financial District or from Midwood to Midtown.
This reality is lost on many in New York and not least upon our city’s elected representatives and politicians who control the purse strings. As the MTA has come to grips this week with a state calculation error of $200 million that will leave a hole in the MTA’s budget, politicians have tried to avoid taking any responsibility whatsoever for this Albany-inspired problem. Take, for example, Brooklyn’s own Carl Kruger.
His statement, in part blames the MTA for Albany’s inability to calculate revenue streams:
Our ability to budget is only as good as our ability to forecast. We were dependent upon data supplied by the Office of Management and Budget with the understanding that it was verified by the MTA’s own fiscal staff.
Furthermore, our projections were based on the fiscal year rather than the calendar year. This critical point should have been taken into account when the MTA fiscal staff developed its parameters.
It is my shared belief that the payroll tax will ‘kick in’ when the dust settles and smaller employers start making their mandatory contributions. It may not happen in the calendar year, but it will happen in the fiscal year. Since our cuts were calculated on a pro rata basis for the fiscal year and not the calendar year, for the MTA to charge its books with a cut of $143 million in the calendar year obviously has a more severe impact than spreading it out over the fiscal year.
Kruger goes on to warn the MTA against creating “an atmosphere of confusion or a needless sense of unrest over what appears to be self-adjusting bookkeeping issues.” I’m not quite sure with what he can threaten the agency though; Albany can’t take away more money.
Anyway, the idea that this is somehow the MTA’s fault due to a calendar year/fiscal year mix-up is absurd. The state legislature has long been aware that the MTA’s fiscal year is a calendar year, and when they passed the bailout package earlier this year, they do so with an eye toward filling a smaller calendar year gap this year and a larger 12-month gap next year. Kruger’s so-called “share belief” that the money will “kick in” next year is nothing but a pipedream by a politician who isn’t fulfilling his duties as a member of the State Senate. (Or perhaps he just fits it with that august body all too well.)
Kruger’s statement is barely news-worthy anymore. We know Albany doesn’t understand how to govern, and we know politicians don’t understand the importance of mass transit in New York’s economy. When they wake up to that reality, it will be too late.