Home MTA Politics To avoid service cuts, Council members urge reallocation

To avoid service cuts, Council members urge reallocation

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Chris December 15, 2009 - 3:52 pm

Business as usual. The very politicians who are to blame for the MTA’s underfunding point fingers at the MTA.

Fine, we’ll take your advice… and in return, how about the city chips in their fair share of the funding for student Metrocards?

No thanks, they’ll say, we’d rather just complain and criticize than do something constructive.

Kid Twist December 15, 2009 - 4:05 pm

The stimulus money was supposed to create jobs. That was never going to work, but at least we could have gotten some needed infrastructure out of all that spending. Now they want to use the money to, in effect, pay people who are already on the public payroll. What a boondoggle.

Alon Levy December 15, 2009 - 7:07 pm

On the contrary: one of the most effective forms of stimulus is aid to local governments so that they can retain jobs instead of laying people off.

Kid Twist December 16, 2009 - 9:46 am

That’s not stimulus. That’s status quo. This stimulus bill of goods was sold to us as a way to spur infrastructure development and creat new jobs, not as a way to let local politicians off the hook.

Alon Levy December 16, 2009 - 6:12 pm

It was sold as a way of creating or saving jobs. Aid to local government saves jobs.

rhywun December 15, 2009 - 9:20 pm

Someone’s got some explaining to do when we pay the highest taxes in the country and get less and less out of it every year. Where’s all that money going?

Benjamin Kabak December 15, 2009 - 9:38 pm

Some of it is going to union raises; some of it is going to upstate regions; and some of it stays in a city that costs more and more to run every year. It’s really the redistribution to areas of the state outside of the city that are quite problematic for New York City’s bottom line.

Working Class December 15, 2009 - 10:04 pm

Yeah union raises all of those WHITE collar public employees don’t get raises, right. People like you ben are more of the problem than the solution.

Benjamin Kabak December 15, 2009 - 10:08 pm

I didn’t realize stating a fact was part of the problem. Is it not true that every public employee union with a contract up this year received a raise? I’m not being critical; I’m simply stating a fact of the New York economy. It costs more to live in this city because the city’s employees are earning raises. I didn’t pass a judgment on that.

You have to stop thinking that every statement is anti-labor. It isn’t.

Older and Wiser December 16, 2009 - 3:13 am

It isn’t the union raises. It’s the MTA’s inability to control it’s penchant for empire-building. Even as they think nothing of axing 350 station agents who provide a reassuring presence to the riding public, they prepare to crown their 350th Senior Director. And for ever four or five SDs you can bet there’s a chief officer or VP tucked away somewhere.

And as for eliminating duplication of effort between agencies, everytime they attempt that, it somehow always seems to get accomplished by proliferating yet another new MTA agency, with it’s own president (of course) & requisite separate office building. And what other MTA on earth would build a separate new Grand Central terminal 200 feet beneath the existing GCT, just to serve a relatively miniscule number of East Side Access passengers? What’s the acronym for Money Thrown Away?

E. Aron December 15, 2009 - 11:21 pm

I’d actually say that good journalists like Ben, who spread facts, are part of the solution, and if you’re reading this blog, you agree. The fact of the matter is, some of the money is being used for union raises, and then he went on to say that this region of NY pays in taxes more than it gets in return from Albany, which is true.

Chris December 16, 2009 - 1:32 am

Funny you should mention that, Working Class, since 6,000 non-union employees at the MTA, including the executives at the top, are taking a 10% pay cut next year.

Older and Wiser December 16, 2009 - 4:07 am

That 10% pay cut will never materialize. Even Mr. Oystercard from London is savy enough to know that a pay cut of that magnitude would be a nonstarter for the upper 3000 those 6000 non-reps to tolerate. By April there will be measures in place to greatly accelerate attrition. When benefits are factored in, reducing headcount by 6% has the same budgetary effect as cutting pay by 10%.

Alon Levy December 16, 2009 - 3:33 am

It’s not just that. Part of it comes from inefficiency – the multi-conductor trains, the capital construction that costs 4 times as much as anywhere else, the deep-level station caverns, etc.

Another part comes from the fact that costs of living in New York are high, and costs of living for people who want a stereotypical middle-class lifestyle are especially high. This forces the city to raise salaries for public employees just to allow them to maintain their standard of living. Federal taxes aren’t adjusted for living costs, and the living costs of the lower and upper classes aren’t so high, both of which mean the city has to spend an unusually high proportion of money on public services.

A third part comes from the fact that New York provides more public services than most cities: public housing, welfare, subsidized school lunches, subsidized public transportation (roads are subsidized too, but the feds pay for them). And it does so while collecting low property taxes, forcing it to rely on income and sales taxes, which are more pro-cyclical. Back in 2006-7, it had windfall revenues, which Bloomberg wasted. Now, it has a shortfall.


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