Home Capital Program 2015-2019 NYC-area lawmakers urge Cuomo to do something

NYC-area lawmakers urge Cuomo to do something

by Benjamin Kabak

Gov. Nero is fiddling while Rome’s subway system is burning, but some New York City lawmakers aren’t taking it sitting down. Assembly representative James Brennan, architect of a plan to fund the MTA’s capital plan, has penned a letter to the Governor asking for resolution. Streetsblog posted the letter [pdf], and Brennan secured 24 other Assembly members and 10 State Senators as co-signers.

Brennan and Co. do not hold back. I’ll excerpt at length:

While this proposed statewide capital program represents a significant number, it still falls far short of what is generally acknowledged by the comptroller and other transportation experts as what is needed to keep New York’s most valuable economic asset—its unparalleled $1 trillion transit system—in a state of good repair and to continue modest expansion. It also must be considered in the context of its broader value to the economic health of its service regions with more than 14 million people, seven million workers and one that generates $1.4 trillion in GDP. Moreover, maintaining transit systems across the state contributes significantly to the upstate economy, given the number of suppliers and value-added services that exist in upstate New York to support the transit capital plans.

The MTA’s daily ridership of 8.6 million has reached a 65-year all time high and is putting significant strain on the system. The Lexington Avenue subway alone carries 1.3 million people a day, exceeding the ridership of San Francisco, Chicago and Boston combined. The pressure on the MTA’s physical assets to serve this increasing ridership is starting to show, with equipment and facility-related train delays on the rise. Between October 2013 and October 2014, nearly 25% of all subway trains were late. Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road have similarly struggled in managing their aging assets.

A fully-funded, five-year statewide capital plan will have far reaching impacts for the entire New York metropolitan and upstate regions, regardless of which borough or county one calls home. It will fund the purchase of modern buses, subway cars and commuter rail cars; the installation of computerized signals to increase capacity and reduce crowding; safety measures such as new subway track to prevent derailments and Positive Train Control to keep commuter rail passengers safe; and rider information like countdown clocks and “BusTime” technology that will help bring New York’s largely outdated system into the 21st Century and closer to on par with the world’s other leading cities.

Our transit agencies have experienced a decrease in federal, state, and local monies for far too long. If new sources of funding are not identified soon, agencies will be forced to raise fares and tolls or reduce service to pay for much-needed infrastructure needs—taking more money from the pockets of millions of daily riders, many of whom have no other transportation options. Viable funding options exist to support these initiatives, and the time is now to take action.

These lawmakers want action during the 2015 legislative session — which ends in less than a month. This is a direct challenge to Cuomo and the loudest one he’s received on the MTA’s capital plan so far. Will he act? I wouldn’t put money on it, but the pressure is mounting as days on the legislative calendar melt away.

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sonicboy678 June 3, 2015 - 6:10 am

I expect Cuomo to either do little to nothing, then start lambasting the MTA when shit really hits the fan.

sonicboy678 June 3, 2015 - 6:12 am

Scratch out “either”; it’s from an older idea.

Tim June 3, 2015 - 8:43 am

I think you meant to say “I expect Cuomo to take more money from transit funding sources for other projects.”

sonicboy678 June 3, 2015 - 6:38 pm

If anything, that would actually be an addition, as I completely forgot about that (shame on me!).

Bolwerk June 3, 2015 - 9:06 am

Other than taking a stand on some almost noncontroversial/narrow issue now and then, Cuomo never really does that.

As Tim mentions, his tactics are passive-aggressive. He mostly ignores things he doesn’t like, but sometimes deigns to let it go on because his corrupt buddies protect them.

When he does take a stand, there has to be no threat to his political capital. Gay marriage was so noncontroversial by the time he came along that people who didn’t support it probably started to feel kind of stupid. LGA AirTrain? It sounds like a good idea, if you don’t know anything.

Ballboy June 3, 2015 - 8:08 am

He is a truly repugnant individual. That is all.

Eric F June 3, 2015 - 9:05 am

I’m a big fan of increased state support for cap ex, but I’m not sure why the city has to be helpless here. The city budget is something like $50 billion per year. If the transit system is understood to be critical, surely 2% could be allocated to it, and you’d have $1 billion per year of fresh money for transit. The entire state budget of NJ is around $30 billion, for context. It seems like NYC has the money but progressive priorities don’t include transit cap ex.

Bolwerk June 3, 2015 - 9:26 am

$75 billion. Though only a fraction of that is going to be discretionary. A financial control board has a lot of rules that need to be followed, old debts are being paid off, pensions are rather inescapable, etc..

Even the discretionary stuff would be a big battle. So what would you cut? Police need more money, even though crime not committed by police has been dropping. Teachers promoted to roles outside the classroom can’t be expected to return to the classroom.

Also, what can the city do that the state can’t do more fairly? NYCTA and SIRT together are probably some amount more than half of the MTA’s total budget. A lot of this just isn’t in the city’s court no matter what.

Eric F June 3, 2015 - 9:33 am

“So what would you cut?”

What’s the growth in the progressive budget? 7%? How about simply hold spending to a 5% increase for everything and stick 2% in transit? The public sector has no problem telling the private sector: “Look we are taking 3.5% of you pay for as a “medicare” tax, you figure out how to make ends meet from here on out.” I don’t see why government agencies can’t handle a little baseline discipline in order to address what is purported to be an existential transportation crisis.

Bolwerk June 3, 2015 - 11:01 am

The growth is largely because of labor expenses. The previous administration, more “progressive” in many ways, deferred negotiating union contracts.

Any realistic evaluation of that situation suggests CoL adjustments were broadly unavoidable. That leads back to my original question: what would you cut?

Eric F June 3, 2015 - 11:08 am

“That leads back to my original question: what would you cut?”

I do not have line items for each agency, nor would I spend any time drawing up hypothetical budgets. If you really think a 2% knock to the rate of growth across the board is simply a metaphysical impossibility, then there isn’t any basis for a discussion. Every dollar is a special snowflake, including the 6,7,8% whatever dollars to be automatically increased each year. If that’s the way it goes, then I guess they have to beg the state. Of course, I’m not sure why that same constraint isn’t applicable to the state as well.

Bolwerk June 3, 2015 - 11:42 am

Well, it probably is impossible if you can’t cut something somewhere (which I’m not against). Civil service wage increases basically are a fact of life, moreso when collective bargaining agreements control. If you’re lucky, you can keep them near inflation, or in line with revenue growth if you’re lucky enough to have it (we are, incidentally).

The state some similar problems, but isn’t so easily bound by its own legislation (e.g., it can change the rules where the city can’t). I doubt the city could eliminate collective bargaining, even if it were inclined to, but in theory the state could with a simple piece of legislation. However, they are, in the end, bound to whatever contracts they write.

This applies to revenue raising too. The city can’t just hike income taxes and earmark to the MTA. But it could hike property taxes, because the state says it can….

johndmuller June 3, 2015 - 9:47 pm

Sooner or later someone somewhere needs to acquire some backbone and find a way to acquire some new money. It has been too long that the small government tea party types have been controlling the dialogue for everyone. Not everyone has the same set of problems; therefore, the same solutions are not for everyone. Lowering taxes is an easy target for demagogues, but there are also people who demagogue for bigger and better school budgets (hence higher taxes) with the same fervor. Someone needs to make mass transit their apple pie American flag and lobby for a way to pay for it.

Raising gas taxes (at all government levels) is a good start, perhaps including taxes on vehicle parts and services. Raising taxes on parking would help; perhaps creating a usage tax for people without sufficient private parking who avail themselves of free on-street parking at public expense. What about cutting back on free paving and snow plowing of residential streets?

adirondacker12800 June 3, 2015 - 10:03 pm

The streets have to be cleared so the garbage trucks can haul away the garbage and the ambulances and fire trucks can get in.

Nathanael June 8, 2015 - 3:28 pm

At the state level, I’d cut the tax breaks for billionaires by reinstituting higher tax rates for the obscenely rich. Simple, right?

At the city level, you need to cut the police budget by about 50%, and you need to cut the number of police officers by about 50%, and specifically you need to fire a lot of the *most senior* police because they’re corrupt murderous thugs. Which is a hard problem. The corrupt and murderous FOP will presumably sue when the city removes the budget funding for their violent blue-clad gang members.

The only way to fix this… is to change the Taylor Law to allow lockouts and scab hiring, which would for reasons of simple fairness also require changing it to allow strikes. Which means we’re back to the state government.

I really don’t see how you deal with most of the city’s problems without fixing the state government first.

anon_coward June 3, 2015 - 9:53 am

the cops don’t need more money. they need to put them out into the streets again enforcing the law instead of relying on cameras for everything

Bolwerk June 3, 2015 - 11:08 am

That’s fucking dumb. Cops hate cameras for a reason, and that reason is why everyone else should make damn sure to be near one when interacting with a cop.

Really, forget cops for a second. Do you want your conviction in court hinging on the word of one other person who has no obligation to provide corroboration?

anon_coward June 3, 2015 - 11:20 am

why do cops hate cameras? lately i don’t see any cops walking a beat and all i see is cameras watching the streets.

Bolwerk June 3, 2015 - 11:45 am

The main reason? Cops can say one thing, and cameras can tell the truth.

Cops also like running red lights, and don’t want to be caught in red light cams. Nothing infuriates them more than being bound to the same rules as us peasants.

anon_coward June 3, 2015 - 11:46 am

they just turn their lights on to run a red light. like ambulances.

sonicboy678 June 3, 2015 - 6:36 pm

Although it is protocol, it’s conditional. The condition is if there’s a genuine emergency. In other words, it’s not “My bladder’s about to burst!”; rather, it’s “My appendix’s about to burst!”

Indeed June 3, 2015 - 8:20 pm

If you go near any police precinct where the cops park their personal cars, you’ll notice a lot of them have those reflector plates on their plates to avoid camera tickets. I think those are illegal. How ironic.

Nathanael June 8, 2015 - 3:29 pm

You’ll also see many of those personal cars *and* police cars parked illegally. Not at every precinct… but at some precincts, they’re nearly *all* parked illegally.

There’s a crime wave among police.

Larry Littlefield June 3, 2015 - 11:44 am

Brennan and the others are just trying to shift the blame for what they have done for 20 years to Cuomo.

Cuomo, via the MTA, is trying to shift the blame to DeBlasio.

Who is trying to shift it to Congress.

The MTA is heading for a financial disaster that will become a physical disaster after a lag. Avoiding this would require lots of sacrifices by lots of interests who have been conditions that there is “hidden billions” from “two sets of books” available.

Don’t forget a share of blame for the Straphangers. They told people what they wanted to hear 12-15 years ago, and can’t unsay it. Just like the money can’t be un-borrowed, and the pension’s can’t be un-increased.

anon_coward June 3, 2015 - 11:49 am

there is enough money for everything as long as you don’t dig new tunnels under manhattan and fix the current problems

Larry Littlefield June 3, 2015 - 2:42 pm


There is enough money for everything as long as we don’t pay interest on the existing debt.

Nathanael June 8, 2015 - 3:30 pm

Even if we do pay the interest, there’s enough money for everything… if we raise income taxes on the very rich people and corporations who hold most of that interest-bearing debt.

adirondacker12800 June 8, 2015 - 4:22 pm

If we hadn’t cut taxes during the secon Bush Adminstration…. we wouldn’t be paying interest because the national debt was going to be paid off in 2011 or 2012.

Quirk June 3, 2015 - 11:36 pm

“The MTA is heading for a financial disaster that will become a physical disaster after a lag. ”

Is that happening already or when they move to Flordia?


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