Cuomo: The MTA Shouldn't be an Authority and other Transit Ideas

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(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Candidates in last night’s New York State Gubernatorial debate had 60 seconds to describe how they would to fix the MTA. (The exact question came from a Parkchester resident who was interviewed by News 12 on the street. She asked: "I just want to know what the next governor is going to do to possibly audit the MTA's books, open up those books, see why they're always in such a deficit. What about the salaries of some of these executives? How come they're not cutting their salaries to give us better service?")

While this question gave Anti-Prohibition Party candidate Kristin Davis the opportunity to deliver the zinger of the evening (when asked what she would do to reform the MTA, she said: "The key difference between the MTA and my former escort agency is I operated one set of books, and I offered on-time and reliable service”), both major party candidates described their plans to put the MTA under control of the governor's office. Their full responses are below.

Unfortunately, the question did not address the MTA's biggest problem right now -- its continuing budget problems and how the authority should be financed.  And no one volunteered a plan.  (Andrew Cuomo's only hint to date is that he might eliminate the tax voted in in 2009 as part of the MTA's bailout plan, but he hasn't say what he'd replace that with.)

Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate: “In some ways, the MTA is just a gross symbol of the problem that a lot of these state agencies and authorities have. Number one:

it wastes a tremendous amount of money. And number two, nobody’s in charge. In terms of the amount of money they waste, two sets of books, certainly; $500 million in overtime, something like 8,000 people make more than $100,000, the pension system, the payroll system – it’s just another example of government (that’s) inefficient, wasteful – and government just doesn’t get it. Everybody else has to live within their means, not government. The MTA also has the additional issue of nobody’s in charge. It’s an authority. It’s a joint board. It’s the mayor, it’s the governor, it’s everybody, it’s nobody. Put the governor in charge. If it doesn’t work, it should be up to the governor and everybody should know. The fraud in the MTA – we did a case on the Long Island Railroad, which is part of the MTA – over 90% were on disability (cut off by moderator). It can’t be."

(Note: most candidates took it as a given that the MTA operated two sets of books. As WNYC's Matthew Schuerman reported in 2009, that's not exactly the case.)

Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate: "The MTA is the poster child for waste, fraud, incompetence, patronage, no-show contracts, absolute mismanagement. We have conductors making two times their base pay in overtime – that’s not management. We have no-show jobs. We have, without question, one big beast that keeps sucking up money. I will get rid of that payroll tax immediately. I will then completely audit that division and take it in under the governor’s office for a five-year period and force it to be restructured so that it is responsive to the people and not to themselves, and not to the pay-to-play club, and those others, okay, those other parasites that breed on it. It will end."

You can listen to the candidates' responses to the MTA question here. Andrew Cuomo's response comes three minutes and 30 seconds into the clip; Carl Paladino's begins at five minutes and 39 seconds.