After a contentious session in which some board members urged the MTA to restore services lost to the 2010 cuts, the MTA Board voted this morning to approve a 2012 budget that contains no restoration of services but no further cuts either. Yet, with state tax revenues lower than expected, the MTA now faces a deficit of $68 million next year and will cover the gap by reducing internal expenses by $35 million and releasing $33 million from the general fund. “The reduction in projected subsidies underscores the fragility of the MTA’s current fiscal stability,” MTA Executive Director Joseph J. Lhota said. “It also indicates how important it is for the MTA to continue its recent efforts to reduce costs, even as we work to improve service.”
The budget itself, which does not call for a fare hike either, is rather perfunctory. Board officials acknowledged that the assumptions — net-zero labor increase, subsidy levels — could fall short of expectations, but the MTA will addresses those contingencies as they arise. The bigger story concerned the battle between board members who wanted the MTA to spend a few million to restore services and those who believed the agency’s economic situation too fragile to even explore the issue.
This debate over service levels is an ongoing one both at MTA Board meetings and amongst transit advocates. Should the MTA be responsible for the failings of Albany or should the authority look to offer services first and foist the issue of paying for those services onto the shoulders of our elected representatives? Considering how many in Albany get a free pass on transit issues, the latter may be an intriguing outcome. For now, though, fares and service levels in 2012 are as safe as they ever are.