Home Capital Program 2015-2019 A brief note on Cuomo’s (lack of) evolution on MTA funding

A brief note on Cuomo’s (lack of) evolution on MTA funding

by Benjamin Kabak

Back in October of 2010, then-gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo let slip a few words on the MTA and transit funding. It was a rare moment of transportation candor for a candidate who hadn’t even acknowledged the MTA existed throughout much of the summer, and his comments then certainly ring true through his actions today. Without giving details on sources of transit funding, he said, “There’s going to be a number of revenue raisers. The instinct is going to be to say ‘more money more money more money.’ I understand that. Part of the discipline I want to bring is a fiscal discipline to the state and the MTA. The answer can’t always be more money.”

Flash-forward five years to today. The MTA is mired in another economic crisis, this one on the capital side, and after years of doing nothing, Cuomo is still simply doing nothing. Funding proposals, some more politically challenging than others, are awaiting action, but the Governor is content simply to parrot himself. In comments earlier today, Cuomo reiterated his tried-and-true line. The MTA’s problems, he said, will not be addressed with “more money more money more money.” Considering that the MTA’s problems are a distinct lack of money, it’s bold to shoot down the end result before even tackling how to get there, but that’s Cuomo for one.

On the one hand, Cuomo is accidentally right. The solution to the MTA’s problems shouldn’t just be only more money; it should also involve an aggressive attempt at getting capital construction costs under control through some combination of union-focused work-rule reform, a better bidding process and a concerted effort to understand why transit construction costs in New York City are exponentially greater than anywhere else in the developed world. But on the other hand, the solution will involve more money, and Cuomo’s new-found fiscal restraint is stunning considering his past actions.

As recently as April of 2014, the MTA had a chance to address some of the sources of its rampant costs as negotiations with the TWU over a new contract lingered unresolved, but Cuomo needed the support of labor in what was then his reelection campaign. So, by all accounts, as is his wont as the agency’s ultimate boss, he pushed the MTA to accepte a contract very favorable to its workers. The MTA exacted no work-rule reform or other staffing concessions that could have led to cost savings. Now, faced with a $15 billion gap, Cuomo’s answer is to withhold funding or any solution.

I’m not keen on giving the MTA a pure blank check for capital costs without reform, but Cuomo’s faux come-to-Jesus moment on the MTA’s cost woes is 18 months and a few billion dollars too late. Plus, he needs a new line. “More money more money more money” is going to be the answer in the end.

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Alex July 16, 2015 - 5:11 pm

I can’t say this enough: Cuomo is a Republican when it comes to funding transit and a Democrat when it comes to bowing down to the unions. It’s the worst of both worlds with none of the benefits.

Bolwerk July 16, 2015 - 5:32 pm

Except who was the last Republikan governor not to sell out to transit unions? Dewey?

The last governor to take them on was probably Mario Cuomo. Otherwise Hugh Carey.

Alex July 16, 2015 - 5:46 pm

Well I didn’t mean NEW YORK Republicans, hah.

Uncle Moishy July 17, 2015 - 1:46 am

Mario Cuomo ordered then-MTA-Chairman Peter Stangl to settle a day-old LIRR strike on terms that essentially capitulated to the union. So maybe he took on some unions at some point, but certainly not then.

Subutay Musluoglu July 17, 2015 - 12:53 pm

And how exactly did Mario Cuomo take on the unions? I seem to recall that in 1993 he put the screws to then MTA Chairman Peter Stangl to cave in and give in to the demands of the LIRR unions who had been on strike for three days. Yes, commuters were being adversely affected, but the MTA was actually in a strong position to take on a longer strike, and finally act on a once in a generation opportunity to do away with arcane work rules. Alas, that did not happen, and see are still stuck with most of these rules 22 years later, and who knows for how much longer thanks to Andrew. Like father, like son.

Chet July 17, 2015 - 7:26 am

The transit unions, yes. The teachers union.. well, I think he hate public school teachers (me) more then he dislikes funding mass transit.

adirondacker12800 July 16, 2015 - 5:49 pm

union-focused work-rule reform

How much of the budget is union labor? How about focusing on the armies of white collar workers allocated to the projects?

VLM July 16, 2015 - 6:25 pm

Because they’ve already done that to the tune of over $1 billion annually. The agency has aggressively cut costs from the non-union side. At some point, the union featherbedding has to stop. Why does a TBM project in the US require 16 more people on it than in Spain? It’s all just work rules.

adirondacker12800 July 16, 2015 - 10:54 pm

16 workers at 300,000 a year including fringe benefits comes out to 4.8 million a year. Or 48 million over a ten year project like ESA. It’s not all union labor.

adirondacker12800 July 16, 2015 - 11:13 pm

16 people a year at 300,000 a year with overtime and benefits comes out to 4.8 million a year. Or 48 million over a ten year project. Since it heading toward 10 billion total I suspect it’s not all sandhogs.

Subutay Musluoglu July 17, 2015 - 12:59 pm

10 years? Try 20 years from start to finish for ESA if you date it back to the 2002 start of construction of MNR’s Highbridge Yard (replacement of Madison Yard in GCT) and assume that they will hold to a 2022 opening. Or why don’t we get crazy and go back to 1992, when the LIRR Grand Central Terminal Operational and Technical Feasibility Study was inaugurated, the first step in reviving a project that had been put on hold in the mid-1970s.

adirondacker12800 July 17, 2015 - 1:17 pm

There weren’t many unionized blue collar workers employed while it was being endlessly planned and replanned. The lawyers on the other hand could have made a career out of it. And the architects and engineers. When someone decides it can’t be at Madison and 48th whole platoons of white collar workers get mobilized to reevaluate where to put it. And yet more to coordinate the studies and plot the community outreach and write up the reports and …..

Subutay Musluoglu July 18, 2015 - 1:43 pm

I agree with you that the white collar work force is bloated as well. There is an army of engineers over at NYCT’s Capital Program Management, many of which are working very hard, while some are not used efficiently at all. Furthermore, they are paying tens of millions of dollars annually to consultants for some work they can perform internally. Their procurement practices result in long drawn out awards, resulting in bid prices that are much higher that initially proposed. On the engineering side there are endless delays from scope creep, getting internal approvals from every department, which is a bureaucratic nightmare, and value engineering processes that are supposed to reduce costs, but on the contrary, result in long time consuming exercises that end up saving little to no money at all. These are just a fraction of the examples.

With respect to your comments regarding TBM staffing, whatever the number is, it is jus just an example. It is a small part of a cumulative picture of inefficiencies that span all of their practices, whether it is contracting outside labor, utilization of their own workforce, how they purchase goods and services, etc. They have long held practices which demand reform, yet no one is willing to stick their neck out to enact change.

adirondacker12800 July 18, 2015 - 3:54 pm

tens of millions of dollars annually to consultants for some work they can perform internally

They can’t. The “gubbermint bad, private infallible” zealots would be up in arms that civil servants are saving the government money.

Larry Littlefield July 17, 2015 - 7:31 am

The LIRR capitulation was worse, because their costs are much more unfair.

Frankly, public employee unions and contractors are out of solidarity with other workers in NY across the board.


Larry Littlefield July 17, 2015 - 9:57 am

By the way, this may be off topic but it affects the environment in which transit operates. The political/union class is ripping off the serfs, as I’ve written. And here is the best description I have seen as to how the executive/financial class is ripping off the serfs.


Of course, you can get out of the stock market, with its executive over-enrichment and currently inflated prices. But as a taxpayer and public service recipient, public employee pension investment in stocks assures you will be ripped off anyway, by the executive/financial class and the political/union class working together. More damage to transit.

Nathanael July 19, 2015 - 10:29 pm

LIRR Today went into some detail regarding the exceptional abuses at the LIRR. Until he took his site down. I hope someone archived those postings.

Chet July 17, 2015 - 8:45 am

Off topic:
I was trying to read this article on my iPhone and I kept getting pop-ups from various scam ads (“You’ve won a contest- click OK”) Happened on two different browsers on my iPhone this morning with just this site. I went to at least a dozen other web sites with no popups. Cleared out all the web data on the phone, still happened. No problems here on my iMac.
Anyone else having similar iOS problems?

Benjamin Kabak July 17, 2015 - 9:01 am

I’m aware of it and not happy about it. I’m working on solving it.

Chet July 17, 2015 - 9:09 am

Figured as much.. just saw your tweet.

Thomas Graves July 17, 2015 - 3:43 pm

I think you have said it well, Ben. Cuomo has no intention of doing anything to help mass transit in NY City. He never did. And though he’s correct that the MTA wastes massive amounts of money, that doesn’t mean capital investments shouldn’t happen. They are desperately needed. The other rogue in the gallery is the MTA. It’s bloated across the board: white-collar, blue-collar. But the white collar part can be – and was at least to some extent – addressed by reductions. In contrast, absurd union work rules, astronomical union-driven costs for expansion projects which are tolerated nowhere else on the planet are still the order of the day for the MTA. The MTA actually spends a lot of money on capital projects, and gets damn little done in return. As you point out, until someone seriously attempts to cut the cost of MTA capital investment, Cuomo’s criticisms will continue to have the veneer of truth.

Ralfff July 18, 2015 - 5:38 pm

Yes but the thing is that this kind of criticism is evergreen in New York. Cuomo’s consistently shown no interest in solving the underlying problem of costs, other than when he closed the excess prisons. Just like, for example, he eliminated taxes in the special economic zones. He was correct that taxes are out of control and driving people and business out, but never said why.

adirondacker12800 July 18, 2015 - 10:19 pm

taxes are out of control and driving people and business out

No they aren’t.

Rob July 19, 2015 - 10:11 pm

Much as I hate the new Tappan Zee Bridge, are there any processes in that project that could be used by the MTA to lower its costs?

LLQBTT July 20, 2015 - 9:52 am

Too bad the new Tap wasn’t built with rail already there. Isn’t this the logical NE corridor bypass point?

LLQBTT July 20, 2015 - 9:51 am

Cuomo has the NYC vote locked up, so why bother with the subways? Instead, he continues to pander to the Buffaloans to get the upstate vote. NYC votes Democrat, and therefore any challenger to Cuomo is doomed. So again, why do anything to help out the subway?


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