Home MTA Economics Gov. Cuomo just isn’t really funding the MTA, and no one is happy

Gov. Cuomo just isn’t really funding the MTA, and no one is happy

by Benjamin Kabak

“How does this make sense?” That is the question Assembly Member Jim Brennan, the chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, asked when faced with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s smoke-and-mirrors approach to MTA funding during a recent hearing. His has hardly been the only incredulous voice throwing all levels of shade toward Cuomo’s proposal, and as we sit in Month 15 of a stand-off over funding for the MTA’s capital plans, planning for work to be performed under the current five-year program has slowed to a crawl.

The problem began back in October when Cuomo announced a funding agreement covering the MTA’s capital funding gap. Along with coercing the city to give $2.5 billion to the plan, Cuomo promised around $8 billion of additional state funding, but he was ambiguously vague about the source of the money. A noted motorist, Cuomo has never tried to use his political capital to push through any congestion pricing plan or Sam Schwartz’s tolling plan, and transit advocates and economists were concerned Cuomo would force the MTA to fund the capital plan through debt. The $8 billion, in other words, wasn’t really there at all, and the state would simply enable more MTA borrowing.

That is essentially what’s happened but worse. In his budget release [pdf], The state’s additional contributions beyond an initial grant of $1 billion would, as Cuomo noted, be available to the MTA only “after MTA capital resources planned for the capital program…have been exhausted,” and the state anticipated fulfilling its funding pledges for the 2015-2019 capital program by 2025-2026. For those keeping score at home, 2025 is supposed to be the launch year for the MTA’s second five-year program after the one currently under endless review.

With the measure also increasing the MTA’s debt ceiling to $55 billion for capital expenditures from 1992-2019, it’s clear that the governor wasn’t too interested in ponying up the billions in a way that would prevent future pressure on the MTA’s operating costs in the form of ever-increasing debt service obligations. Thus, his October promise was anything but a promise and simply consisted of debt, debt, and more debt. The capital program, meanwhile, still hasn’t been approved, and the MTA can’t spend money on needed projects yet.

No one watching the watchers is too happy about Cuomo’s proposal. Brennan pushed MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast a few weeks ago on sources for the money, but Prendergast’s lack of concrete answers pushed the legislators toward pointed criticism. “At some point,” Brennan said, “it would be nice to see a proposal from this person who’s the elected leader of the state.”

Senator Marty Golden was similar skeptical. “I have no idea how we can actually do a capital program and actually approve a capital program with language that it’ll be there when you need it. Corporate America would laugh at this. Any country would be surprised with this type of approach in funding.”

Advocates have written pleading op-eds urging the Governor to right this wrong, and the New York City Independent Budget Office has thrown up some serious red flags as well [pdf]. In a report released late last week, the IBO warned that both the city and state are likely to delay their actual contributions until the MTA exhausts its borrowing capabilities and then delays repayment until 2025-2026. This, in turn, could affect access to federal funding, delay budgetary considerations until after the next rounds of state and city elections and jeopardize actual contributions to the 2020-2024 plan, if not that plan in its entirety (which, by the way, is when I would expect to see the bulk of Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway receiving funding).

The state and city have continued to push back on this narrative by claiming their budgetary contributions are “iron clad,” but it’s hard to take Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio as their words. They have hardly been transit boosters before, and the budgetary shenanigans are just another way to stick it to New York City’s transit riders without tackling the larger issues of mobility and capital funding. It’s the same old song and dance, and 15 months after the capital program was due to start, we are still no closer to a real solution.

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Anon March 8, 2016 - 8:21 am

Obligatory “Generation Greed” comment… Now that’s out of the way, anyone have anything novel to say about this?

Larry Littlefield March 8, 2016 - 9:48 am

So I expect you think it’s fine that the future is drained away from younger people, with this just one small aspect of a larger picture?

As best as I can tell, the only person calling attention to that larger picture is me.

Will March 8, 2016 - 8:34 am

Lease your assets and buy real estate around the properties to fund the capital program. Cuamo is incompetent. I don’t know how you voted for him

RH March 8, 2016 - 1:27 pm

Not necessarily fair. Who else was there? I doubt Carl Paladino would have been too helpful on transit

Ralfff March 8, 2016 - 1:43 pm

Objectively speaking, I don’t know how anyone could have watched the one debate in 2010 (and virtually no one did watch and the media obsessed over Jimmy McMillan and the Rent Being Too Damn High) and not conclude that either Howie Hawkins of the Green Party or the libertarian party guy won it. The public was warned, they just didn’t listen to Cuomo’s own words in many cases.

RH March 8, 2016 - 3:39 pm

“Go ahead, throw your vote away!” – Kang

“Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos” – Homer

Nathanael March 8, 2016 - 8:25 pm

Well, I voted for Zephyr in the primary, and Howie in the general. Cuomo had already disgusted me way too much during his first term to waste my vote on him again.

LLQBTT March 8, 2016 - 9:23 am

The builders keep building and building, taller buildings in places, more dense than what was before in others. These people need to get around. Once they (quickly) learn that they cannot fit on the trains, they will drive. Once they drive, there will be more congestion. Once there is more congestion, no one can get around. Once no one can get around, the economy will fall down, and people will leave. The overcrowding problem will be solved, and there will be a diminished city left.

Larry Littlefield March 8, 2016 - 9:45 am

“Increasing the MTA’s debt ceiling to $55 billion.”

How about we agree on this. Nobody born after 1957 has any obligation to pay any of those debts back. We’ve been robbed by those who came before, and it is they who are holding that tax-free paper. Let’s talk about defaulting.

smotri March 8, 2016 - 11:01 am

I don’t understand this logic. People born after 1957 have no responsibility for present day conditions? Is that it? People up to 58 years of age didn’t make decisions – like whom to vote for, or even whether to vote at all – and so are absolved of any responsibility? This doesn’t make sense.

Larry Littlefield March 8, 2016 - 11:40 am

That’s what Generation Greed would argue. The generation to follow, Generation Apathy, got what it deserved, along with those following after that.

Larry Littlefield March 8, 2016 - 11:39 am

“At some point,” Brennan said, “it would be nice to see a proposal from this person who’s the elected leader of the state.”

Or anyone else. The only sustainable proposal I’ve seen was from me, and it involved a lot of pain for every interest. We can bite the bullet while it remains an alternative to biting the bust, or start a petition to default on all the debts.

Jedman67 March 8, 2016 - 2:49 pm

If only we could have a recall election. Has Coumo kept even one of his campaign promises?

smotri March 9, 2016 - 9:21 am

If you are so sure you are right, then why not run for office?

Larry Littlefield March 9, 2016 - 9:39 am

After you. I already did my part, in 2004.


The time to get rolling with that is now. They rig everything to keep challengers off the ballot.


You need 500 signatures for assembly and 1000 for state senate in the primary, and figure they find a way to get rid of 2/3 of them. Run as an independent? 1500 for assembly, 3000 for state senate.

June 7
First day for signing designating petitions for state/local offices. §6-134(4)
July 11- July 14
Dates for filing designating petitions for state/local offices. §6-158(1)
July 18
Last day to authorize designations for state/local offices. §6-120(3)
July 18
Last day to accept or decline designations for state/local offices. §6-158(2)
July 22
Last day to fill a vacancy after a declination for state/local office.§6-158(3)
July 26
Last day to file authorization of substitution after declination of a state/local designation. §6-120(3)

July 12
First day for signing nominating petitions for state/local offices. §6-138(4)
Aug 16 –
Aug. 23
Dates for filing independent nominating petitions for state/local office. §6-158(9)
Aug. 26
Last day to accept or decline nomination for state/local office. §6-158(11)
Aug. 29
Last day to fill a vacancy after a declination in state/local office.
Sept. 16
Last day to decline after acceptance if nominee loses party primary. §6-158(11)

Maggie March 8, 2016 - 7:32 pm

“Said the chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions.” What’s the word for being reminiscent of Robert Caro? Is it Carovian? That’s a delightfully Carovian construction there.

Did Cuomo fund $20 billion for upstate roads, and not bother to fund the MTA capital plan?

Larry Littlefield March 8, 2016 - 7:54 pm

What has happened to the Transportation Trust Fund for roads and bridges is exactly what happened to the MTA. Cost soared, money was diverted, money was borrowed to make up for the diversions. Now paying for past debts sucks up all the dedicated revenues, leaving no money for ongoing reinvestment.

I was upstate. On the radio, all you hear is demands for “parity” with as much money spent on state DOT as on the MTA. Evidently the promise is for $5 billion less for DOT than for the MTA. But there is no real money behind any promise.

Cuomo deserves heat of this, but Brennan and Golden deserve it more. They were voting to sell out the future for decades before Cuomo even got there. Now Cuomo just wants to keep pulling the same crap they did starting in 1995.

Nathanael March 8, 2016 - 8:27 pm

Andrew Cuomo has the misfortune to be a corrupt, incompetent, business-as-usual machine hack…. in a period when business as usual is not tolerable any longer.

Even some of the old-line hacks like Marty Golden recognize that things have to change… because they’re a lot smarter than Cuomo.

Larry Littlefield March 9, 2016 - 7:52 am

Smart enough to have as their solution a demand that someone else come up with a solution, which they will not be blamed for and might very well oppose.

Do you recall these gentlemen’s stance on congestion pricing?

Now that the consequences of 20-plus years of debt are coming due, everyone is desperate to be seen as pro-transit and anti-debt. You’ve got driver’s first Greenfield in favor of the F Express, for example. But that doesn’t make the past go away.

Cynical manipulation. Just like the DeBlasio and Cuomo “solution” that “funded” the capital plan.

Nathanael March 12, 2016 - 1:18 am

I’m cynical enough that I’ll take competent cynical manipulation over incompetent cynical manipulation any day. Cuomo’s doing an awful job at it; he just is no good at reading the public mood for some reason.

Bill Martin March 10, 2016 - 5:53 am

Cuomo is running for President and will do anything to avoid increasing spending and taxes. But it’s scorched earth policy for the riders and local taxpayers.


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