Home Capital Program 2015-2019 Former MTA heads banding together to lobby for a capital plan

Former MTA heads banding together to lobby for a capital plan

by Benjamin Kabak

Think of it as the MTA’s version of Captain Planet. With their powers combined, can they convince Albany to act on the MTA’s 800-pound gorilla in the room — that unfunded $32 billion capital plan? That’s the question looming ahead of a Tuesday morning press conference that will see Jay Walder, Lee Sander and Peter Stangle share the stage. The three former MTA heads were originally set to appear with Richard Ravitch, but the guru of New York state politics has seemingly dropped out of the event.

The lobbying effort is the brainchild of the Empire State Transportation Alliance, and the three men will call upon Albany to fund the damn thing. “For nearly 40 years, the New York State Legislature has recognized that our transit system underpins our state and the $1.5 trillion economy of the New York metropolitan region. This year, a broad alliance of former MTA leaders and transit and environmental experts have come together to urge leaders in Albany to identify stable, dedicated revenue to support the plan,” ESTA staid in a statement. “Without sufficient funding to cover all five years of the plan, we will severely damage the MTA’s capacity to provide safe, reliable and modern transit service and put our region’s growth, vitality and quality of life at risk.”

For the MTA, a gathering of this magnitude — including the who’s who of contractor associations, environmental groups, rider advocacy organizations and union leaders — is a momentous occasion, but the agency would be hard pressed to talk much about it. The MTA leaders know that, as they run a state agency that operates at the whim of Gov. Cuomo, they can’t really lobby for something without the go-ahead from Cuomo’s office, and so far, Cuomo hasn’t waded into the fray over the capital plan. So why not have a bunch of former agency heads to do the dirty work?

It’s interesting to see Stengl, Sander and Walder take the reins here. Each are very well respected within the transportation community, but each had issues navigating the politics of the MTA. Stengl had troubles with the first Gov. Cuomo (but left after George Pataki won election) while Walder had issues with the second. Sander was bounced due, in part, to his lack of relationship with Gov. Paterson but had a vision for the agency. But leaving the MTA’s top job isn’t a sign of anything other than normalcy these days, and here they are.

I won’t be able to attend Tuesday’s press conference, but we will hear these leaders talk about “why funding the plan with new revenue is vital for the continued success of the greater metropolitan region.” New revenue, perhaps, is a code word for a push for the Move NY traffic pricing plan or another revenue-generating scheme that will require action from Albany. It’s getting harder to ignore the drum beat, and having former MTA heads free from the shackles of Albany and willing to talk will only boost the view that, sooner or later, the city will have to comes to terms with its transportation priorities and the way it plans to fund the next five, 10 or 15 years.

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Nathanael January 13, 2015 - 9:26 am

I wish them the best of luck.

Larry Greenfield January 13, 2015 - 11:20 am

And while they’re at it, they should push to have the MTA assume the work of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. They are the best informed leaders to point out that the PA has become an obsolete and ineffective organization, hopelessly awash in patronage, that has become an obstacle to transportation progress in the NY metropolitan area.

Justin Samuels January 14, 2015 - 9:47 am

The Port Authority is a bi-state entity whose mission is to manage the seaports and airports of NY and NJ.

It has a different mission from the MTA.

With that said, I would like it if more of the Port Authority’s revenues could be applied towards MTA capital budgets. But this would require approval from both NY and NJ governors. Besides, the MTA will ultimately get funding for it’s 2015-2019. Albany and City Hall will find the money from somewhere. They always do.

Larry Littlefield January 13, 2015 - 2:02 pm

This is a show. No one should have to be lobbied. Everyone knows what the issues are.

Piling up debt has broken the MTA. The state legislature that is being lobbied did it. The former MTA chairs that are lobbying failed to call them out on it (though the ones most responsible, during Pataki’s reign, aren’t there).

Getting out of this would require a great deal of pain. Not just at the MTA, and not just in New York.

Bolwerk January 13, 2015 - 4:15 pm

Bleh, stop being histrionic. The MTA’s annual $16 billion budget is a bit more than 1% of the downstate economy, a highly transit-dependent economy that probably sees its growth stunted because of refusal to spend to improve and expand its transit system. Debt service is a fraction of that budget.

Fixing this won’t cause *that* much pain, certainly not compared to not fixing it.

Larry Littlefield January 13, 2015 - 8:33 pm

The problem is, the MTA debt is just one of things like the MTA debt, all of which are screaming for money.

Fixing this will cost less than not fixing it, and yet not fixing it has been the choice for 20 years.

Bolwerk January 13, 2015 - 8:48 pm

Not fixing it was the choice before 25 or 30 years ago. Now we are dealing with the overhang.

SEAN January 13, 2015 - 4:25 pm

The easy way out for that would be admitting that the MTA is bankrupt, but the ramifications of such a move preclude that from happening. As you posted – “Getting out of this would require a great deal of pain. Not just at the MTA, and not just in New York.”

Larry Greenfield January 14, 2015 - 7:48 am

And yet, the PA can spend $4B on a train station. Why does the region even have the PA?

Alon Levy January 14, 2015 - 9:18 am

Because New York and New Jersey were no more cooperative in building Hudson crossings a hundred years ago than they are today.

Nathanael January 14, 2015 - 11:32 am

Exactly. It’s been called the “Hudson Ocean”.


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