Home Asides Inside the origins of the MTA’s debt burden

Inside the origins of the MTA’s debt burden

by Benjamin Kabak

City Limits, the online magazine focusing on NYC civic life, has published the final installment of its three-part series focusing on the MTA’s financial problems. Today’s piece focuses on the MTA’s debt burden brought about by its massive five-year capital plans. For those familiar with the MTA’s economic picture, Jake Mooney’s piece treads familiar ground, but it does an excellent job exploring the origins of the MTA’s debt.

Mooney summarizes why debt payments will reach $2.5 billion in 2014 and how Albany and City Hall are to blame: “While federal government support for capital projects has remained strong, city and state contributions over the years have dwindled. To make up the difference, the authority has increasingly borrowed money by issuing bonds, and that borrowing has taken a toll. The MTA’s outstanding debt, which was $13 billion in 2000, had reached $31 billion by this past July.”

As Mooney notes, without congestion pricing or bridge tolls — two plans that would generate revenue while encouraging more efficient travel — the system is bound to be mired in financial troubles for the foreseeable future. “They’re really just kicking the can down the road,” John Petro of the Drum Major Institute said to City Limits. “It’s going to mean more pain for riders. All the tinkering we do and belt-tightening is not really going to address the problem. Hopefully voters will realize that the source of their grief is not this nameless, faceless authority, but the people that they vote for.” [City Limits]

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rhywun August 10, 2010 - 10:03 pm

Of course city and state contributions have dwindled – the money’s been spirited away to fund other obligations, the costs of which are either legally or politically impossible to control – unlike the costs of transit. You can’t break union contracts, you can’t cut medical or other social benefits if you want to keep your job. You can only raise sales taxes and sin taxes so high before you start seeing a drain on the treasury. And socking drivers to cover lost transit revenue – a herculean task anywhere in this country, even NYC – might seem ideal… or it might just “drive” out the middle class – long tired of getting nickeled and dimed to death – even faster.

In short, we are doomed. Absent a miracle recovery of the economy which would let us sweep the problem under the rug for a few more years.

Andrew August 14, 2010 - 9:55 pm

Congestion pricing and tolls aren’t “socking drivers to cover lost transit revenue” – they’re charging drivers for the services they use (operating and maintaining streets and bridges costs something) and for the space they occupy (real estate isn’t free, especially in the Manhattan CBD).

Plenty of middle class New Yorkers don’t have cars. Most of those who do don’t drive them very frequently into Manhattan. And when they do drive them into Manhattan, many of them would be glad to pay a few dollars in exchange for reduced congestion.

So “socking drivers to cover lost transit revenue,” as you call it, wouldn’t drive out the middle class. If it allows for improved transit service, it might even attract the middle class from elsewhere.


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