Home MTA Politics On MTA funding, divergent paths — or just empty promises? — from de Blasio, Lhota

On MTA funding, divergent paths — or just empty promises? — from de Blasio, Lhota

by Benjamin Kabak

With recent polls giving Bill de Blasio a fifty-point lead over GOP challenger and former MTA head Joe Lhota in the race for mayor, New York voters haven’t seen a particularly robust discussion of the issues, and even with a pair of debates looming, I don’t expect much of substance to emerge. Lhota faces too big a polling gap and recognition issues while de Blasio has nothing to gain from being out front of any policy debates. That said, the two candidates offered up some vague details on their funding plans for the MTA.

The city’s relationship with the transit agency has been a rough ground lately. City-based politicians seem to agree that the five boroughs should have more of a say on the MTA Board. Currently only four of the 12 seats are appointed by the Mayor, but the Governor has appointed city residents as well. Yet, city politicians aren’t keen on acknowledging that with great power comes great funding responsibility, and discussions surrounding city contributions to the MTA budget often result in a lot of stammering and attempts at changing the subject.

The mayoral race has been no different. No candidates are proposing congestion pricing or East River tolling, and while de Blasio has spoken about protecting the MTA payroll mobility tax as an important source of revenue, Lhota has suggested divorcing bridge and tunnel toll revenues from subway funding schemes. By and large, these positions have ranged from non-controversial to non-starters. Still, this week, we’ve seen divergent viewpoints from both candidates.

On Monday, Pete Donohue wrote about how Lhota would increase city contributions to the MTA’s budget. Lhota wouldn’t provide a specific figure or identify where the money would come from, but he noted that the city should be more involved in the MTA’s capital program. “I do believe the mayor and City Council should start participating in a significant way in the capital plan,” Lhota said. “We need to participate more.”

De Blasio, meanwhile, said that he doesn’t believe the city is fiscally healthy enough to up its MTA contributions. “I think there are some things we can do that are meaningful, like help expand Bus Rapid Transit in the outer boroughs, and there’s a contribution the city can make to that through capital funding,” the mayoral frontrunner said in a radio interview today. “But in terms of the core of our budget, no, we’re not in the position to do that right now.”

Since de Blasio is likely to win in November, his comments aren’t the most encouraging, but it’s all likely to be a load of nothing. Neither candidate has put out a transit plan comparable to that developed by Mayor Bloomberg four years ago, but mostly that just means neither will underdeliver when it proves impossible implement, say, free crosstown buses as Bloomberg once proposed. Still, resignation before the election won’t translate into action after, and the city’s strange economic relationship with its own subway system won’t change much from today’s awkward status quo.

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17 comments

SEAN October 9, 2013 - 12:36 pm

On MTA funding, divergent paths — or just empty promises?

It’s absolutely the latter without a doubt. I was on the CTA’s site last night & they have several projects in the works or already up & running. These include…

1. A new open source farecard system named Ventra that just went live last month.
2. A new BRT type bus service called Jump that opperates on a single route, but will be rolled out on other lines in the next few years.
3. Two subway extentions are in the works, one is on the Red line to the south of 95th for about five miles & on the Yellow line through Skokie to Old Orchard shopping center.

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Larry Littlefield October 9, 2013 - 12:49 pm

The goal is to leave the city in ruins and have someone else blamed for it. Anyone who talks about the MTA might end up being tagged by the press as someone who should have done something about its ongoing maintenance needs.

The goal is to slither away like Patak, Giuliani, Bloomberg, Spitzer, etc.

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Alex October 9, 2013 - 1:07 pm

de Blasio did a Reddit AMA yesterday and someone asked him specifically about the Second Ave Subway. His answer was less than inspiring:

“My central focus, which is made clear in my platform at http://www.billdeblasio.com, is on expanding transit options in underserved neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, particularly through bus rapid transit. I also think a central mission as mayor will be to protect the state payroll tax that is keeping the MTA viable at this point.”

He didn’t say so specifically, but he almost seems opposed to continuing on to Phase 2 of the SAS. At best he’s indifferent. Not that the mayor controls that, but it would definitely help to have him back the project and apply political pressure. More generally, his vision for transit expansion is pretty weak. Yet somehow, he was the best candidate for transit. Frustrating to say the least.

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Tim October 9, 2013 - 1:21 pm

DeBlasio will be a disaster as mayor. He doesn’t get what makes NYC run, strictly a populist.

If he really cared about outerborough transit options, he’d push the Triborough Rx.

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Alex October 9, 2013 - 1:27 pm

I don’t know about disaster, but I worry he’ll be uninspiring and unproductive.

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John-2 October 9, 2013 - 2:07 pm

You can’t un-ring a bell, in that you can’t allow the city to go back to the 1966-93 status quo or if you’re the city and the MTA, you can’t allow the system to slip back to the pre-Robert Kiley/David Gunn era, especially given the change in mindset towards urban living.

In the period of 20-45 years ago, there was still a mindset that you could abandon inner city areas to decay and simply move out to the suburbs. That fantasy’s been gone for a long time, and those who’ve spent oodles of bucks on living space in gentrified areas aren’t going to simply shrug their shoulders if the neighborhoods and the subways crash and burn, and go buy a car and a house in Levitown (or any other tri-state area suburb). If the next mayor is either reluctant to fund needed transit and/or allows quality of life issues to make people feel less secure on transit, he can’t simply say the problems are endemic of modern urban life and you can’t change them, because of what’s happened to the city over the past 20 years and to the subways over the past 30 years.

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Larry Littlefield October 9, 2013 - 2:22 pm

“You can’t un-ring a bell, in that you can’t allow the city to go back to the 1966-93 status quo or if you’re the city and the MTA.”

Despite redoing all the retroactive pension increases and debts of the Lindsay/Rockefeller years, to a greater extent.

“In the period of 20-45 years ago, there was still a mindset that you could abandon inner city areas to decay and simply move out to the suburbs. That fantasy’s been gone for a long time.”

I agree it won’t be as easy to find places to flee to. How long and the subways be kept running with duct tape, chicken wire and twine?

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John-2 October 9, 2013 - 5:03 pm

The pension/debt shenanigans of the Lindsay/Beame years really didn’t make it into the public’s consciousness until 1975, when the first major cuts in services began. But the public already was angry about declining quality-of-life issues. Same thing today — the consequences of the budget tricks will sneak up on most of the public eventually, but you can’t get the majority to focus on it.

But everyday quality-of-life declines are something that’s harder to hide, because it’s in your face all the time, and after the past 20-30 year period, no mayor can simply say the problems are intractable, and you can’t do anything but try to manage te decline the best as possible.

Larry Littlefield October 9, 2013 - 5:53 pm

Some people say DeBlasio will be the next Lindsay, but I think that job has been taken. The next Beame is more like it.

Bolwerk October 9, 2013 - 3:01 pm

The delusion^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hfantasy persists with older generations. Generally, the older you are the more likely you are to buy into it unquestionably.

De Blasio is not quite part of the first generation, Gen X, that began to see its members driven to cities. They were born a few years later. Still, the few extra years Lhota has on de Blasio might have something to do with Lhota’s habit of pandering to the people who still obsess with cars and crime instead of jobs and their own environment.

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John-2 October 9, 2013 - 4:56 pm

I think where the mindset of the average New Yorker is going into the election is closer in general to de Blasio than to Lhota, and the polls show that. I just think de Blasio will have less wiggle room to implement his ideas coming after Bloomberg than John Lindsay had when he replaced three-term mayor Robert Wagner, because the problems that developed during Lindsay’s terms were unprecedented in the modern media era, so you could go to the public when running for a second term and apologize, while your supporters said things might be worse in 1969 than they were in ’65, but New York didn’t burn like Newark or Detroit.

People, especially owners in gentrifying areas as opposed to renters, aren’t going to get mad if de Blasio implements his policies … as long as they work. If they start to see their brownstone or condo investments head in the direction of Tottenville because of those same policies, they’re not going to accept a “Yes, but…” explanation on why nothing can be done.

Bolwerk October 9, 2013 - 5:39 pm

What policies would even have such an impact? Setting aside Old Skool Librul caricatures, whuch never had much basis in reality, his housing and policing policies seem remarkably similar to Bloomberg’s. He simply spoke out against aggressive stop ‘n frisk, a policy that every cool-headed observer is well aware isn’t working, which is alarming a lot of authoritarian/stupid people.

So, where is he breaking with the status quo? Transportation? No! The environment? Not that I can see. Social services? Not much he could change if he wanted. Taxes? A little, but barely, with little chance of success. Economic development? Again, I don’t see it. The only thing I could maybe come up with is education, and if anything dialing back charter schools would be fiscally conservative.

The scary thing about de Blasio is the prospect that nothing is really going to change.

Alon Levy October 9, 2013 - 8:37 pm

He wants to upzone enough to add 200,000 housing units over 10 years, which is higher than the Bloomberg-era average.

Bolwerk October 9, 2013 - 9:25 pm

I guess that’s something, but 20,000/year is still a drop in the bucket. Hardly a sea change.

Bolwerk October 9, 2013 - 3:09 pm

He’s definitely on a course to damage transit. He’s half-right though: underserved areas deserve at least as much attention as Second Avenue, but many should be getting subway access too.

Hopefully the BRT thing will be nipped in the bud, and there is at least some reason to think it will be. A decade ago all the gimmicky transit talk was about monorails, which were, if anything, less silly and unworkable than BRT.

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David Brown October 9, 2013 - 2:05 pm

I think we will get a good indication on where De Blasio stands on Transit Issues with the City Council votes on East Side Midtown Rezoning, and Empire Outlets, any NO by him, would doom them. If they fail that would be a very negative message (particularly the Rezoning). However, to be fair, according to “The Real Deal” it looks like “5 Pointz”, “Yorktown Playground” and “Willets Point” will all be approved. The “Yorktown Playground” vote is important, because that project is right by SAS Phase II, and a NO vote would have given hope to NIMBY’s on the Upper East Side of killing SAS.

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Karm October 9, 2013 - 8:34 pm

Why is anyone even expecting anything from him on transit? Public Advocate was his biggest job. On every issue I hear him with a lot of rhetoric with seemingly no grasp as to how things work.

Even the Dem voters who refuse to vote Republican – I don’t know why more Dems aren’t more interested in Adolfo Carrion. Someone who did a great job as Bronx BP and went to Washington and was fairly effective. He has much more of a grasp of the nuts and bolts than de Blasio does.

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