Home MTA Politics Governor Cuomo is in charge of the MTA except when he’s not

Governor Cuomo is in charge of the MTA except when he’s not

by Benjamin Kabak

A few years ago, at around the time Sandy swept through New York, Andrew Cuomo determined it looked gubernatorial and in charge for him to announce good news regarding the MTA. In the grand tradition of New York executives stretching back to 1968, Cuomo decided that the MTA could be used to boost his image with downstate voters, and now, every time good news comes out, his press office sends out an email “announcing” the happenings. Tunnels reopening? Sandy work on the R train wrapping early? New wireless service underground? Federal storm preparedness funds? It all comes from Cuomo’s office.

“What happens though when there is bad news?” you may wonder. Funny you should ask because that’s when Cuomo disappears faster than Keyser Soze. He’s more than willing to take credit for everything on which he had little to no affect; that is, after all, his prerogative as the MTA is a creation of the State of New York. But when something doesn’t go right, when there are bad headlines to be made, Cuomo does what many others have done before him — he tries to distance himself from the MTA. (He may even be exerting pressure to actively avoid bad news. From some accounts, the MTA may wait to announce the details of the 2015 fare hikes until after Election Day so Cuomo can avoid the bad press. Usually, the new fare schemes are announced in mid-October prior to a March fare hike. But I digress.)

This dynamic came to a head this week following the CPRB rejection of the MTA’s capital plan. In his comments about the capital plan, Cuomo, who you may recall is in charge of the MTA, seemed surprised that the thing had a $15 billion gap. He didn’t offer up any solutions and seems to think all is copacetic when it comes to MTA funding.

Here’s what he said to Capital New York: “The first budget from every agency also always calls for $15 billion. That’s part of the dance that we go through. That’s why I say it’s the initial, proposed budget. We’ll then look at that budget and go through, and we’ll come up with a realistic number. But we have a very real $4 billion surplus, and we have a 2 percent spending cap that I still follow. So that’s the discipline that’s in the process.”

When later asked about a funding scheme involving, say, congestion pricing, Cuomo was quick to dismiss the idea. As Kate Hinds reported, Cuomo simply said, “There’s no need for it. We have a surplus. Look, we had a $10 billion deficit, and we didn’t do tolls.” That $15 billion is just going to materialize out of thing air. (Or will Cuomo, as he intimated, use the money from the bank settlements to fund the MTA?)

For its part, in a rare act of defiance, the MTA seems to be toeing the capital line. While Cuomo has suggested the capital budget could be pared down — and it’s likely to come in below the current $32 billion price tag — Tom Prendergast spoke yesterday about the need for investing in the system. Streetsblog’s Stephen Miller was on hand to report as Prendergast defended the five-year plan. Disputing Cuomo’s earlier assertion that the proposal was “bloated,” as the governor said, Prendergast warned that he’d be willing to drive the MTA further into debt. “I don’t like greater debt finance, but I’ll tell you what,” he said, “I’ll treat that finance as a bridge to another day.”

As Miller notes, Prendergast’s co-panelists discussing transit governance were quick to point to Cuomo as the ultimate arbiter of all things MTA, whether the governor admits it or not. Many MTA board members answer to Cuomo, and Prendergast is a Cuomo appointee who serves at the pleasure of the governor. While Cuomo may try to shirk the bad news and trumpet the good, this is his beast, as it was every governor’s before him since Nelson and David Rockefeller’s plan to depose Robert Moses. The $15 billion gap is at his feet. How he moves forward will speak volumes of his approach toward New York City and transit, and I’m not feeling particularly optimistic about it.

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Nsm October 9, 2014 - 12:51 am

Secession, please.

Jonathan October 9, 2014 - 12:42 pm

In the primary, Cuomo got stronger support in NYC than upstate.

Nathanael October 12, 2014 - 8:35 pm

Yep. The Teachout/Wu vote was highest upstate.

You need us to save you from yourselves. 🙂 But anyway, vote Hawkins, I will be.

John-2 October 9, 2014 - 12:54 am

When Andrew was a mere lad, did dad ever even take him on the subways of the 1970s? Closing the gap via deferred maintenance was the way both the TA and the MTA went in the late 1960s and the 70s, and anyone old enough to have lived in New York and taken the subway for any period of time can’t forget what that strategy cost.

But if Mario was schelpping young Andy around in the family car, taxis or limos, he may not remember the decline and decay and may be ready to repeat history by closing the deficit by eliminating things that aren’t visually apparent to the riding public at first glance.

Bolwerk October 9, 2014 - 9:40 am

I have it on fairly good authority (granted, still hearsay) that Mario is none too pleased with Andy bollixing the transit system, and other dopey policies. Perhaps there is even some serious friction between them.

Andy is actually doing the opposite of what Mario did. It’s forgotten, but Mario’s administration was the first to begin to actually restore some semblance of operational order to the MTA in a generation. At least his subordinates understood the system was necessary, and paying to fix it then was better budget policy than letting it spiral into further decay and become more expensive to fix. Of course every governor since just took the Reaganesque “let’s not pay the bills” approach.

John-2 October 9, 2014 - 9:49 am

Yeah, it is hard to fathom how the son of the governor whose first major success was the Kiley-Gunn MTA reforms can be so disinterested in maintaining those advances, to the point he seems either unaware and/or uncaring of why Mario had to make reforming the MTA his top priority after entering office in 1983.

Andrew may still have his sights set on the White House in 2016 and is thinking that even back in the 1960s, when preventive maintenance was first thrown in the dumpster, it took 5-6 years for the system’s decay to become so encompassing and obvious (helped in large part by the MTA’s inability to get a handle on the graffiti problem in 1972-73). Which would mean going back to the old ways in 2015 might not have an impact people are truly screaming about until 2020-2021, when by that time Cuomo assumes he’ll be down in Washington and some other pol will bear the brunt of area voters’ anger.

Nathanael October 12, 2014 - 8:36 pm

I don’t understand Andrew Cuomo, but I can tell that he is nothing like his old man. Mario was a clever fox. Andrew is a dope.

Larry Littlefield October 9, 2014 - 6:41 am

It isn’t just at Cuomo’s feet. Don’t forget the state legislature. And, in particular, Silver and Skelos.

Chris C October 9, 2014 - 11:22 am

He’s not alone in wanting the credit for the good things but will happily divert the blame.

see one Boris Johnson and Transport for London

JJJJ October 9, 2014 - 1:30 pm

And yet the enlightened voters of New York will reward him with more time in office.

Bolwerk October 9, 2014 - 4:53 pm

You think Astorino is better?

SEAN October 9, 2014 - 6:49 pm

BTW, do you know what Astorino’s claim to fame is? He was on the town board of Mount Pleasant & Michael Kay’s original radio producer.

adirondacker12800 October 10, 2014 - 12:11 am

It would look bad if the Republicans didn’t show up for an election they were going to lose. They had to have somebody run.

Nathanael October 12, 2014 - 8:44 pm

Yeah — remember when they ran Carl Palladino?

The Republicans are not a serious party in most of NY any more. They control the State Senate through gerrymandering and, frankly, bribing Democrats to switch parties, and they still lose control every two years.

Republicans can’t win any city in the state, except in parts of Long Island; and they also lose the North Country. They still have some support in rural parts of upstate (more rural than Auburn), but those areas are losing their population, or being displaced by organic farmers (who tend not to vote Republican). That leaves the rich bits of Westchester (where Republicans are also losing ground); and big hunks of Long Island and Staten Island, but they can’t survive on that alone.

Unless you’re looking at a race against an entrenched Republican incumbent, or you’re in a rural area, Long Island, or Staten Island, it’s safe to vote third party because the Republican Party is no longer a serious option.

Nathanael October 12, 2014 - 8:36 pm

I think Hawkins is better.

Nathanael October 12, 2014 - 8:38 pm

And don’t give me the old “wasted vote” nonsense. I know a lot about tactical voting; tactically, it’s correct to vote for Hawkins this year.

adirondacker12800 October 12, 2014 - 9:48 pm

The Democrat is almost always also running on the Working Families Party line. You can send the message, maybe not one that jives with the one you want to send in every detail, that way.

Alon Levy October 13, 2014 - 11:38 am

Isn’t the WFP the one that decided to play it safe and didn’t endorse Teachout? Or am I misremembering?

adirondacker12800 October 13, 2014 - 2:27 pm

They could have endorsed Teachout. The rules about elections in New York are complex. This isn’t the NYS Election Law blog. They made the right decision, considering all the other rules that come into play.

Bolwerk October 13, 2014 - 8:31 pm

You have it right, but I’m not sure it was about playing it safe. As I recall, Cuomo made some concessions to WFP, including Cuomo supporting bringing the so-called “Independent” Democratic Caucus back into the Democratic caucus. Teachout responded by challenging him for the Democratic nomination.

Not sure what adirondacker12800 is referring to, but I don’t know if the WFP was in a position to make a decisive difference for this election. Cuomo seems to have managed a pretty big lead all along.

adirondacker12800 October 13, 2014 - 9:26 pm

This isn’t the New York Election Law blog. It has all sorts of considerations beyond the election for governor, it was a good decision.

lop October 14, 2014 - 4:56 pm

The concessions were supposed to allow WFP to endorse Cuomo without alienating WFP supporters. If they endorsed teachout would Cuomo have accepted their nomination? Doubtful. So teachout would have had to get 50k votes under WFP in the general election for WFP to maintain ballot access in minor races that they have a chance of winning. Would 50k be willing to vote third party and risk a republican getting elected? Howie Hawkins got almost 60k for the green party in 2010. Independence and WFP got about 150k to vote for Cuomo on their line. Endorsing Cuomo was the safe/conservative move.

adirondacker12800 October 14, 2014 - 6:00 pm

Once you have automatic ballot access you have to play by the rules for major parties. No they couldn’t have endorsed both of them. I’m not an election law lawyer, if they had endorsed both of them that would have triggered a primary. Complete with circulating petitions. Neither of them would have wanted to spend the money to do that.

Bolwerk October 15, 2014 - 8:56 pm

At least with the politicking, Cuomo seems like a pretty pragmatic creature.

It’s hard to say how it would have turned out if they had endorsed Teachout. Two things though:

1) she may not have challenged Cuomo as a Democrat.

2) lots of people who supported Teachout but couldn’t vote in the Democratic primary, and only vote Democratic in generals while holding their noses, might well have been drawn to the Teachout/Wu movement and now will never have a chance to cast a vote for it.

adirondacker12800 October 15, 2014 - 9:12 pm

Ask Dede Scozzafava how that works out. Or Al Gore.

Bolwerk October 17, 2014 - 2:38 pm

What do they have to do with this? I don’t know about Scozzafava, but everyone knew the Gore/Bush election would be close even if Gore was slightly favored to win. A single major poll puts Cuomo less than 20 points head; the others all have him over 20 points.

Cuomo would probably have to rape a baby on live TV to scare off enough of the WFP/progressive Dem. demographic to give Astorino a prayer – and that’s assuming Astorino voters aren’t the sort to jump ship for Cuomo after seeing such a spectacle.

adirondacker12800 October 17, 2014 - 4:10 pm

There are things other than who gets elected governor decided when we have a gubernatorial election. Like which party gets on which line of the ballots for the next four years. And which parties get on the ballot without going through the trouble of circulating petitions. Like the WFP just did with Cuomo. Automatic ballot access gives the party some leverage in down ticket elections. Sometimes a lot of leverage. No one is forcing you to vote for Cuomo on the WFP line, the Green Party has it’s own candidate. Or vote Libertarian. And you can always write in Jimmy McMilian for The Rent is 2 Damn High Party.

Dede should have been Congresswoman for life. but nooooo the people who thought she was evil because she didn’t condemn same sex marriage and thought a few other suspiciously Democratic Party things decided that they would run their candidate on the Conservative Line. Dede barely got any votes. The idiot on the Conservative line didn’t get 50%. The Democrats won in a district that had been voting Republican since the Whigs stopped running candidates. It’s a great strategy.
How many pissed off liberals voted for Ralph Nader in Florida? Was it more than what would have decisively determined the election?
Works out really well to piss in the soup of an election. This one wouldn’t have matter much. Except that the WFP would have lost what little leverage they have in Albany and very likely automatic ballot access. Sounds like a winning strategy so that you can make a statement. Even though it’s a secret ballot.

Bolwerk October 20, 2014 - 3:41 pm

That’s not playing it safe though. Teachout won 3x the threshold for a party to keep ballot access in the Democratic primary. An insurgent Teachout in the general might have even done better, and forced Cuomo to take fewer Republikan positions in the process.

If anything, WFP shot simply marginalized itself by selling out too quickly. Kind of like the Democrats.

adirondacker12800 October 20, 2014 - 4:12 pm

And when they run Teachout instead of Cuomo the screener at the Governor’s office tells them to go fornicate with themselves when they call for an appointment. As do the people in the Legislature. Another good strategy.

Isaac October 9, 2014 - 6:58 pm

Yes, Astorino is better.


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