Actual Debate Breaks Out At NY MTA Board Meeting

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Perhaps the most boring photo ever taken of a NY MTA board meeting, where stuff went down. (Photo by Jim O'Grady.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority board was about to vote on its $12.7 billion budget for 2012 when member Allen Capelli spoke up and ground the proceedings to a halt. The moment was unusual because the board traditionally works out differences behind closed doors, making its public sessions a fait accompli machine.

Capelli proposed an amendment to the budget that would have the NY MTA spend $20 million to reverse some of last year's drastic cuts to subway, bus, and commuter train service.

Board member Charles Moerdler backed him up, saying it would show riders they could expect more from the MTA besides fare hikes

"If you care about public mass transit, put up or shut up," Moerdler said before comparing the amendment to apple pie and motherhood. "You cannot vote against it."

Opposed was budget director Robert Foran, who said next year's books were balanced on cuts to overhead that have yet to be identified.

"I don't know where we're going to get the $35 million that I just said we're going to cut," Foran explained with some exasperation. "I don't know where I'll get this $20 million."

He said the $35 million in cuts combined with $33 million in emergency reserves will be needed to plug an expected drop in revenues from the MTA's portion of a state payroll tax.

Foran noted projections that show a 30 to 40 percent drop in Wall Street bonuses this year, which provide a big slice of the payroll tax pie. "You're putting a $20 million burden on us," he said to Capelli and Moerdler, "when we're already trying to figure out what are we going to do when the whole payroll economy comes down."

Joe Lhota, the NY MTA's new executive director, also spoke against the amendment, which he described as a "dangerous proposal."

Board member Andrew Albert, who represents the New York City Transit Riders Council,  disagreed. He called a budget without at least some restored service "a budget balanced on the backs of riders." He said certain buses, trains and subways needed to run as often as they did before last year's cuts.  "We need to bring back the frequency so people are not packed in like animals," he said.

The debate raged a good half hour before a vote was called. The amendment lost 6 to 4. The rest of the 2012 budget--which includes no fare hikes or service cuts--was passed.

Lhota is expected to go before the State Senate next month for confirmation as chairman of the board. Should he gain the position, it will be interesting to see if debates keep breaking out during the MTA’s public sessions.