In an effort to help the MTA stave off crippling service cuts while earning some political brownie points, two New York City Council members urged the MTA to reject the service cuts proposals. Council Member James Vacca (D-Bronx) and Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn joined some transit advocates in speaking out against the cuts. The two proposed an alternate solution to the MTA’s funding gap, but it is nothing more than a temporary fix.
According to the press release issued by the council members, the MTA would use $90 million in “unspent federal stimulus aid” that is supposed to go to capital projects to cover the budget gap while another $50 million would be moved from the capital budget to the operating ledger. Although the MTA may still have to cut salaries, the Student MetroCard program and some Access-A-Ride services, this $140 million accounting trick would avert the death of the W and Z trains as well as the cuts to citywide bus service and midday subway frequency.
Quinn’s press release has some information backwards: It says the MTA Board is voting a week before they issue the cuts when in fact it’s voting less than a week after releasing them. The council members though defending their suggestion as a one-time solution.
“If bus and subway services are cut the way the MTA is proposing, we will be creating mass transit deserts throughout New York City, stranding hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” Vacca said. “Once again, we’ll have citizens paying more and getting less. The city, state, and MTA have got to come together and reexamine the agency’s budget so that these cuts never become a reality.”
The Speaker herself bemoaned the lack of public hearings on the cuts. “We normally would not favor using capital funding towards operating expenses,” she said. “However under these circumstances, this is the only appropriate action to take. The MTA’s decision not to hold a single public hearing for straphangers to weigh in on proposed service cuts or the elimination of student metro cards is a slap in the face to millions of hardworking families. Before these drastic changes are made, the MTA must pledge to give the public a chance to voice their concerns before enacting these extreme changes.”
Quinn and Vacca should understand the MTA is legally obligated to pass a balanced budget before the end of the year. Without permission from Albany, there is simply no time to hold public hearings and, based on the hearings earlier this year, no real point to them. People aren’t going to like the hikes whether or not the MTA holds some hearings.
In the end, though, it’s not about hearings; it’s about an unsatisfactory solution. For now, moving money from one budget to the other would avoid the service cuts, but it is nothing more than a short-term fix. The MTA has suffered through decades of short-term fixes, and the last thing the agency could do is move money from its capital budget to its operating expenses. The capital budgets ensure that this system doesn’t fall apart and, in fact, continues to grow. The Council should come up with more permanent ways to fund the MTA. The city is depending upon it.