Home Capital Program 2015-2019 A New York State budget with no MTA capital funding

A New York State budget with no MTA capital funding

by Benjamin Kabak

At one point earlier this winter, it seemed as though the perfect storm of MTA funding had appeared on the horizon. The MTA had issued a request for a funding plan for a $15 billion capital budget gap while New York State had a $6 billion windfall in fines from financial institutions. When the dust finally settled on the budget discussions this week, yacht owners earned themselves a tax break while the MTA received a big, fat nothing. Instead, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his staff plan to work toward a resolution on the capital plan while budget watchers and transit advocates are left shaking their heads in dismay as Albany again lets down New York City.

The idea that New York City commuters have long drawn the short straw in budget talks isn’t a new one. Cap’n Transit explored the issue in an April 2012 post that’s still sadly relevant today. This year, though, the disparity grew worse as Cuomo used the $6 billion windfall for upstate projects and potential toll relief for drivers who will eventually use the New New York Bridge. Unless the governor is going to make a big push for the Move New York fair tolling plan — and even if he does — this is a disappointing turn of events.

The coverage of the budget shenanigans has now turned its focus to the MTA. In a headline that is as much an understatement as anything the Daily News will ever run, a Glenn Blain story trumpets: “MTA not allocated enough money from state’s new budget, advocates charge.” In fact, “not enough” would be a welcome amount; rather, the MTA received $250 million earmarked for one of Cuomo’s own pet projects.

At City Journal, E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute wrote a scathing piece on the Governor’s failures. He writes:

Incredibly, however, the only piece of the windfall Cuomo and the legislature aimed anywhere near the MTA is a $250 million appropriation to begin construction of a new Metro North commuter rail line from southeastern Westchester to Penn Station. The Penn Station access project is an odd one to be singled out for preferential funding. As the Citizens Budget Commission noted, “its total cost has not been reported, its benefits have not been quantified, and it is not clear why it is preferred” over other priorities in the MTA plan. The new line can’t become operational until the MTA completes its massive East Side Access project linking Long Island to Grand Central Terminal, which will free platform space at crowded Penn Station. The latest completion date for that chronically behind-schedule, over-budget project is 2023. For now, the MTA will have to settle for a token $750 million that Cuomo agreed to provide in bonded support for the transit capital program.

Ignoring the MTA’s needs made it possible for Cuomo to spend upward of $1 billion in remaining windfall cash on other purposes…Late in the recent budget negotiations, Senate Republicans tried to persuade Cuomo to set aside more of the windfall cash for transportation infrastructure, as well for municipal water and sewer projects. When the governor wouldn’t budge, they countered by authorizing more borrowing to supplement a separate bonded appropriation Cuomo had already proposed for highways and bridges. (In true Albany fashion, the legislative additions also included a pork-like $400 million “transformative investment” fund just for Long Island.)

…It’s all too common for crumbling infrastructure to be ignored until it poses an imminent threat to health or the smooth running of the local economy…The manner in which Cuomo and the Legislature have chosen to divvy up the windfall pie is sure to win them plenty of thank-yous over the next few years from politically wired developers, corporate executives, and unions around the state. But future generations of New Yorkers probably won’t feel as grateful.

Disappointing and expected. Now we head into a spring of uncertainty. The MTA can’t keep megaproject costs under control, and now they’ll continue to rely on a pay-as-you-go funding approach to a capital plan that needs support. I sound like a broken record, but trains are more crowded that ever. The MTA can ill afford to wait, but the last best chance just passed by. What comes next is a political blank slate with no easy solution in sight.

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Bryan H April 3, 2015 - 8:37 am

Dear, dear me. A tax break for yacht/boat sales. Because otherwise, everyone will go down to Florida and buy their boats there. (Even though, in their shoes, I’d buy my yacht in FL and keep it there — something to do with it being nice, nearly year-long.)

This smacks of a drought several years ago in Atlanta. Watering restrictions were put in place. The lawn care industry got up in arms, asking that people would be allowed to water their yards. Otherwise, the mowers would be out of a job. Technically, yeah… But unless these yards were growing crops, who in the hell cares? Grass? We need to grow grass, just so someone can mow it?!?

And its kind of the same for these yachts. Although, that’s not the boondoggle that “stole” the MTA’s money. No, its just the latest minor outrage, placed out there to divert our attention.

And why does it cost so damned much to build subways in Manhattan? It’s not all granite, and there are more unforeseen “things” underground in London or Paris. Not to mention these NIMBYs…

JJJJ April 3, 2015 - 11:21 am

If you voted for Cuomo, then you are to blame.

Walt Gekko April 3, 2015 - 11:21 am

The problem Cuomo has is simple:

If he gives the MTA money, it hurts him upstate and and voters there and in Western New York use it against him in 2018. We forget there is a lot of resentment for NYC the further north and west you get.

SEAN April 3, 2015 - 12:52 pm

But do these voters understand that without NYC, they wouldn’t have much of a tax base to support their way of life? I’m not in any way referring to NYC ecceptionalism here – rather I’m giving a stark reality since the non-MTA portions of the state continue to see population decline as compared to the portions within the MTA service area. It’s also worth noting that in NYS the political power base is in the areas outside the MTA region despite the fact that that’s where the majority of residents live.

It maybe a surprise to some, but that is normal in many states. In florida for example, the population base is in the Tampa, Orlando & Miami/ Palm Beach areas, but the power base is in the panhandle & north of Tallahassee.

AG April 3, 2015 - 4:41 pm

No – they will cut off their nose to spite their face. Just as the south and midwest hate the northeast – but the northeast subsidizes them.
You are right though… As upstate NY loses population it doesn’t make sense to cater to them. Not even downstate is really growing. In the suburbs Westchester and Nassau grew very slightly. Only Rockland really grew – but it is small in land area and won’t continue growing that much more. Literally the only real growth in the state is NYC.

adirondacker12800 April 3, 2015 - 7:08 pm

Upstate isn’t losing population. Individual counties may not be doing so well but as a whole the population is stable or growing slowly.

SEAN April 3, 2015 - 8:22 pm

If that be the case – then why is NYS representation in concress been shrinking while Texas & Floridas as been increasing in recent decades?

adirondacker12800 April 3, 2015 - 10:00 pm

Because there are 435 Representatives in the House and when the population goes from 281,421,906 in 2000 to 308,745,538 in 2010 the 435 representatives get spread around differently. New York has one less representative in the House. The state’s population grew. Just not as fast as other states.

AG April 4, 2015 - 11:58 pm

Well it goes by share of the overall population… He’s wrong saying upstate isn’t losing population – but even last decade when it grew slightly NY still lost because the south is growing faster… That trend won’t change. That’s the shift in the country.

AG April 5, 2015 - 12:02 am
Bolwerk April 6, 2015 - 12:50 am

He probably isn’t wrong. If I’m not mistaken, that first link considers natural growth and net migration but not immigration. Note this bit (emphasis mine):

The majority of the increase occurred in New York City, which had 161,564 people, an increase of 2 percent, and the first time in more than 60 years that more people moved in than moved out of city. The city’s population totaled 8.3 million in 2012.

Not counting immigrants is the only way that sentence makes sense. With immigrants counted, NYC counties as a whole probably haven’t seen a population decline since the 1970s.

Upstate obviously sees much lower immigration, but it’s probably enough to push most of those counties back above zero growth.

AG April 6, 2015 - 7:35 pm

Those are absolute numbers they were talking about… Just about everywhere in the northeast has domestic out-migration. Even NYC sees net domestic out-migration… Births and international immigration are why the number keeps growing in NYC. There are a few upstate counties stable or slightly growing… Most though are losing overall numbers. Take out NYC and NYS loses population overall.

adirondacker12800 April 6, 2015 - 10:20 pm

Go read the articles, not just the headlines, you linked to. If it is, it’s a fraction of a percent.

AG April 7, 2015 - 10:43 am

I have read them – and many more… It doesn’t matter if it is “a fraction of percent”… The fact is NYC’s population is growing and upstate – overall is not. Sullivan County itself lost 1.7% of it’s population. Most cold places in this country are not growing. Though you can’t blame it completely on the cold since Minneapolis is growing as a region. Ditto Toronto (ok that is Canada). Buffalo – Syracuse etc. are not in that league. Even suburbs of NYC lost population – like Putnam and Dutchess. You can say “oh it’s only a fraction”… Well guess what… That is NOT good for budgets. There are less taxpayers to share the burden. That means NYC has to carry even more of the burden for the state. This is not a gloat – this is disturbing. I love visiting upstate for it’s nature… Let’s face the facts though that the economies in most places are not good. There is a good amount of tech growth in the Albany region – more down-staters going upstate for tourism – and a resurgence in certain local agricultural products… That doesn’t change the fact that cities are the growth engines in this country and the world in this century… Upstate cities (outside of the Capital Region) are not thriving.

adirondacker12800 April 7, 2015 - 12:14 pm

3553 out of 7 million is well below the error rate in random-sample surveys. It’s stable.

The economy isn’t going to be lousy forever and people will start buying retirement homes in the mountains again. And the estates that have been sitting on empty houses they can’t sell will be able to sell them.

AG April 7, 2015 - 1:51 pm

Except the upstate economy has never really recovered from the time that the Erie Canal lost it’s prominence. Manufacturing won’t be employing huge numbers anymore either. This is the new Information Age. That’s why the Albany region is the only upstate region with good job growth. In addition to being the seat of government – it has attracted a cluster of technology jobs do to the College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering and IBM initiatives. I think it’s great agriculture is coming back (I personally go upstate an buy wine – honey – syrup – fruits – raw milk etc.) but that will never replace all the manufacturing jobs either. What you call “stable” means schools and hospitals will continue to close and consolidate. That is not necessarily “bad” – but let’s not pretend downstate doesn’t share more of the burden.

Buying vacation homes and second homes is no way to run an economy… Just ask Florida – which even with their massive population growth – still is fundamentally weak – economically… That’s why in the last down-cycle they fell so hard.
The only thing that can stop the march south of all northern populations is if climate cycles make living in those areas closer to the equator – unbearable. New York State has a few other issues. One being high taxes compared to other states. So does California (have high taxes) – but California doesn’t have the cold of upstate NY so people keep moving there (even if they have problems with water).

To go back to the original point – NYS will continue to lose seats in national representation and NYC increasingly has to carry upstate.

Bolwerk April 7, 2015 - 2:06 pm

It’s generally advantageous to have a cold climate. Stupids love warm weather.

AG April 7, 2015 - 2:26 pm

I know that… My family migrated from a warm country to NY. Point is that upstate NY is not Finland or Sweden or Norway. If it becomes that way – you will get no argument from me.
This conversation was about the budget of NYS. As it stands NYC carries the NYC region carries the rest of the state – and increasingly so.. So NYC should get more transit funding.

adirondacker12800 April 7, 2015 - 7:27 pm

Hospitals and schools consolidate or close downstate too. they do in places other than New York.

The conversation was about whether or not the population upstate is shrinking. It’s not.

Upstate has been making tourism one of it’s income sources for over a century. Retirees are a wonderful thing. They have stable incomes and very low crime rates. Very few children in the school systems either. Good health insurance too, keeping all those highly paid health care workers busy. If they turn into snowbirds, no garbage to collect or emergency services to provide in the winter.

Upstate got over being the rustbelt years and years ago. Buffalo is becoming the place Canadian companies put their U.S. offices. Metro Albany is moderately high tech. So is Rochester, all those people at Xerox and what’s left of Kodak. Syracuse is too. Just because it isn’t branded iSomething doesn’t mean it’s invisible. Just because it’s main feature isn’t the operating system doesn’t make it invisible either.

AG April 7, 2015 - 10:05 pm

The numbers show you are wrong… Upstate is losing population…

Hospitals in NYC and the immediate area close yes… But not because of low population. They close because of cost or performance. A very different problem.

Also – in case you didn’t know Rochester is the most dangerous city in the state based on violent crime rate. Buffalo is close.

But that is the problem… The upstate locales are not “going quietly”. They all have loads of legacy payments to make. You need young people to do that. This is the reality. Study after study after study shows this is reality.





Bolwerk April 7, 2015 - 2:01 pm

The journalist probably doesn’t understand this himself, but those “absolute numbers” are population change estimates based on two factors: (birth – deaths) and (people migrating to a county – people migrating from a county). Maybe because it’s too unpredictable, immigration isn’t considered even if it ultimately counts when the official decennial Census is performed.

Granular data may have some major blemishes, but upstate as a whole probably is roughly stable population-wise looking at decade-to-decade growth.

AG April 7, 2015 - 2:18 pm

“Stable” doesn’t help the budget. The state needs population growth to deal with it’s burdens. That is the only way tax revenue will grow.

As to the population troubles – this is nothing new at all…


It’s been talked about for 50 years now in NY. This has nothing to do with those journalists in last month’s stories.

D in Bushwick April 3, 2015 - 1:38 pm

Upstate New Yorkers bite the hand that feeds them just as most red states get back much more than they give. It turns out conservatives are the most government dependent!
Metro NYC needs to solve this Uppity State problem once and for all.

Justin Samuels April 5, 2015 - 12:42 am

At least Penn Station Access being funded. The thing is most of the proposed transit lines fans of this blog favor are never going to happen due to the city and state having other major priorities as well. The boomers ar aging and as they go into nursing homes medicaid expenditures will explode. Both city and state will need to deal with this.

Aside from Penn Station Access, LIRr to grand central and the Second Avenue subway will likely get more funding. Anything else will not happen as far as new train lines in this budget.

bigbellymon4 April 12, 2015 - 11:24 pm

Each capital funding project has received less and less as the years progressed. Each program cost has increased (most likely due to the potential that the MTA saw to help improve the system) while the money given to offset the cost was subsequently reduced. Page 90 (second to last page) details the basic break down of money received per program from 1982. This shows how the city at one time, wanted to improve transportation for residents but over time, failed to see the potential to persistently investing in the programs to improve the system.



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