The Evil that is the MTA
Ruben Safir March 12th, 2009
The Metropolitan Transit Authority is the single biggest threat to the long term stability of New York City. It has been standing on the throat of this city for decades, squeezing the economic life blood from this town. It has prov en to be an irresponsible steward of this cities transportation network. It has political mussel and protection unlike any organization in our government. Unlike a private enterprise, it has no need to constrain its budget for the purposes of profitability. Unlike a government organization it escapes any kind of voter over site at the ballot box. We are all victims of the MTA and its reckless use of government funds, and misguided priorities. This people, the voters of the City of New York, can never give the MTA enough funds to satiate its endless budget. Every dollar they acquire, they budget for completely, and then spend one more. The MTA must die if the City of New York is to live.
First of all, every citizen of this city needs to come to understand the basic facts of the MTA. It is an independent authority chartered under New York State Law which has no over site. It has an independent agenda. That agenda benefits the MTA, and is not designed to benefit New Yorkers. The MTA is not our friend, nor does it respond to our needs, and most of all it does not respond to public pressure or scrutinize. It borrows money and leaves the bills for the taxpayer and straphangers. It subsidizes suburban growth, and leaves the bill for the inner city working class. It buys glitzy toys, like underground radio systems, a connection for the LIRR to Grand Central Station along with the building of a new level, an extension of the 7 train to the Javits Center, new cars with digital signage, elevators, and electronic billboards, but it ignores basic safety and traffic needs like switches and steel rails, station maintenance, and subway cars with enough signs to know what train your hoping on without needing to look over the platform with the train arriving. And then they spend hundreds of millions of dollars to preach to us. Don't run up the escalator, Don't lean over the platform (so then how do we know what train is coming since they have removed most of the side car signage), don't walk between cars (which was really useful at stopping over crowding for nearly a hundred years before some idiot decided it was too dangerous), pick up your trash, and give your seat to a pregnant women.
Enough. We can't take it any more. In 2000 the MTA tried to ram part two of its capital budget program down our throats, by permitting the MTA more borrowing than it could ever afford, about 1.6 billion dollars with another 2.2 billion dollars of pork for upstate highways and roads. It was rejected soundly by the voters of New York State. But the MTA is like a fly. If you swat it away, it just comes back. In 2005 the MTA launched an “education program” for yet another statewide referendum, this time worth 2.9 billion dollars in funding. in 1995 the New York Times reported that State lawmakers were aghast at the 4.5 billion dollars that the MTA would need to borrow between 1997 and 1999. That's right, we've been playing this game for a very long time. And the major infrastructure we got was the retirement of the perfectly usable Red Cars on the IRT, and the completely unnecessary electronic signally for the 'L' train. Is it that hard to safely run trains on a line that has exactly one outbound and one inbound track that we had to pay almost a billion dollars for it? And with looming service cutbacks was it worth it? And the station rehabilitations that were necessary, did we get them? Well? Maybe, sort of. They cost us way to much and took way too long according to Joseph Rappaport of the Straphangers Campaign "All we're getting in station rehabs is what we were already promised, and we're getting it three years late and having to shell out more in the fare to get it.”
In 2003 the MTA attempted to side step the whole process when it created YET ANOTHER corporation in their authority with the creation of the Capital Construction Company with responsibility for overseeing system expansion projects for all MTA companies. The latest plan for the MTA is for the state to do the same for the bond driven capital program. So then we'll have yet another organization completely disenfranchised from the City's electorate or even the operations for fare operations which can raise fares and taxes without any over site whatsoever. Oh, and for those not watch, you should note that the latest Richard Ravitch plan calls for the elimination of public hearings for fare hikes. Don't you love the Metrocard. Fares can be raised at will with a few key strokes now. Yet between 1981 and 1991 over 16 billion dollars was spent on MTA capitalization. And that barely made a dent. The 2001 capital program borrowed money for a 1.1 billion dollar expansion of the LIRR to reach Grand Central Station. Who from the city would want this at the cost of a 2 dollar fare hike and service shutdowns? But these proposals go through the Capital Program review board which the Mayor is outnumbered by statewide office holders 3 to 1. And that is how we get this shoved down our throats. And when horse trading erupted over the 2nd avenue subway for the LIRR expansion the MTA responded with a two tier bond program that brought out older less expensive dept for a greater new bond act over a longer time. Predictions at the time were that this massive debt would cause fares to skyrocket up to $4.00. But that is not the MTA's problem. Its just the problem of the poor guy schlepping to work or his family around to the museum in Brooklyn and Queens. It was known as a fact that this program would put massive pressure on MTA's finances between 2005-2009, just as it has. And the program in 2000 was decried by everyone in the know about the MTA including the then former MTA chair Robert R. Kiley and Gene Russianoff, the same lawyer pushing eat river bridge tolls on us, who wrote at the time, "In sum, it is our conclusion that the plan not only does not fund new capacity, it threatens the ability of the MTA to continue its State of Good Repair program for this and future plans."
Need to see more? In February of 2004 the Mayor took the MTA to court to stop it from funneling monies for the Subway to buy new Metro North cars (NY Times: Feb 26th, 2004). The New York Times wrote then:
The mayor is trying to exert influence on an obscure state panel that has the power to deny the $230 million in financing that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority needs for the new rail cars. He is also considering going to court over the issue if necessary, according to a senior aide to Mr. Bloomberg who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Then in December of 2004 the Times published this:
Four years ago, the governor of New York and leading state legislators gave permission for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to pay off old bonds by borrowing $14 billion, creating a steep pile of new debt for a transit system filled with ancient structures, middle-aged equipment and little money to replace them.
Today, with the M.T.A. facing short- and long-range financial crises, the public benefit of that decision remains a matter of vigorous dispute.
On April 3rd, 2000 the Times published this little tidbit:
In the last month, government and private analysts have developed a striking consensus that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's five-year, $16.5 billion capital improvement plan is a disaster-in-waiting, built on a mountain of borrowed money, that would force a major fare increase.
They say the crush of debt would cripple the authority's ability to keep New York City's subways and buses and the commuter railroads in good repair, and would make the financing of future capital plans nearly impossible. The plan would require by far the largest sale of municipal bonds in history, more than $20 billion.
October 3rd, 2004:
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is projecting budget deficits of more than a billion dollars in the coming years, and another round of fare increases and service cuts appears imminent. But now transportation authority officials want to spend even more money to continue to maintain the system, and even the authority's critics are hard-pressed to fault them for it.
The trouble is, no one has quite figured out how to pay for the improvements.
"I don't think there's any question that more money is needed for the system's operation and for upkeep and maintenance," said Doug Turetsky, a spokesman for the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan city agency, on the financial quandary. "The question is where those resources are going to come from."
On the authority's shopping list: more than $17 billion in system upgrades and replacement of old equipment, $500 million for security improvements and several billion dollars for expansion projects, including the building of the first phase of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway and connecting the Long Island Rail Road with Grand Central Terminal.
It is all part of the authority's proposed five-year capital improvement plan for 2005 to 2009, sent to Albany last week for approval. Making his priority clear, Peter S. Kalikow, the authority's chairman, said he would be willing to sacrifice the highly publicized expansion projects if it meant protecting the $17 billion for the existing system.
"This is the minimum number that we will accept," he said Wednesday at the authority's board meeting. "It's the minimum number to keep the system running."
It will be up to lawmakers, however, to wrangle over how to come up with the money, or if they even can.
The problem is a familiar one for the authority. Similar hand-wringing accompanied the passage of the authority's current $19 billion capital program for 2000 to 2004. In the end, much of that program was paid for by bonds, repaid out of riders' fares. But that has left the authority facing a mountain of debt. Payments coming due on that debt are at the core of the authority's struggle with its operating budget.
As Gene Russianoff, a staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, a transit advocacy group, put it, "Their credit card is maxed out."
Authority officials have made clear that issuing more debt, paid for by riders, would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
October 25th, 2005:
New York's city and suburban transit network faces enormous, fast-growing debts and budget deficits, with no clear plan for addressing them. It raised fares last year, plans to raise them again next year and warns that it may do so again in 2006.
This is not a surprise to people who monitor the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The current situation was predicted four years ago by, among others, former top transit officials, fiscal watchdogs like the Independent Budget Office and the Citizens Budget Commission, the state comptroller, business groups like the New York City Partnership and transit advocates like the Regional Plan Association and the Straphangers Campaign.
The financial problems, critics contend, are the direct result of more than a decade of policies by New York State, New York City, and the authority, which operates the city's subways, buses, bridges and tunnels, and the Metro-North and Long Island commuter railroads. In particular, they point to a $17 billion capital maintenance and expansion program adopted four years ago that was broadly denounced at the time as a fiscal time bomb.
March 6th 2003:
The decision of transit officials to propose substantial fare increases to close a budget shortfall has not ended a bitter political fight about whether the public should be given more information about the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's budget.
The state comptroller, Alan G. Hevesi, a Democrat, has subpoenaed 18 cartons of budget documents from the authority and forced three of its top budget officials to give lengthy depositions about their bookkeeping. He vowed today to continue that inquiry to its conclusion no matter what the authority's board decides on Thursday when it votes on the fare increase.
Both Mr. Hevesi and the New York City comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., called on the authority's board to postpone the vote Thursday until Mr. Hevesi's office completed its review of the authority's books.
MTA debt is what is driving up the fares of the MTA. They have been rolling in public financed doe through out the fat years and now they must face the reality of a deep recession and a declining City economy. And it is LONG time for New York City to get its SUBWAY BACK without the interference of Albany. It is time for the Queen of Hearts and to stop the lies that our current state legislator is somehow responsible for the MTA's crimes. If a massive fair hike comes on March 25th, it will be squarely the fault of the MTA. OFF WITH THEIR HEADS. It is high time to end the MTA