Streams

Saving the MTA

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith revealed his plan for saving the MTA minutes ago. Daily News Albany bureau chief Ken Lovett discusses the latest on the future of the MTA.

Guests:

Ken Lovett

Comments [21]

Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA

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

Mar. 17 2009 12:41 PM
Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA


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.

Mar. 17 2009 12:41 PM
Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA


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.

Mar. 17 2009 12:40 PM
Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA


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.

Mar. 17 2009 12:40 PM
Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA


“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.

Mar. 17 2009 12:40 PM
Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA


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.

Mar. 17 2009 12:40 PM
Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA

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.

Mar. 17 2009 12:39 PM
Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA


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 ibringing his family around to the museum from 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
not for east river bridge tolls, and who both wrote jointly 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:

Mar. 17 2009 12:39 PM
Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA


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 and managing their bonds. The latest
plan for the MTA is for the state to do the same for the bond driven capital
program through a charter. So then we’ll have yet another organization
completely disenfranchised from the City’s electorate or even sensitive to
the operations or fare burden, and which can raise fares and taxes without
any over site whatsoever. Oh, and for those not watching, 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.

Mar. 17 2009 12:39 PM
Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA

n 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 and managing their bonds. The latest
plan for the MTA is for the state to do the same for the bond driven capital
program through a charter. So then we’ll have yet another organization
completely disenfranchised from the City’s electorate or even sensitive to
the operations or fare burden, and which can raise fares and taxes without
any over site whatsoever. Oh, and for those not watching, you should note
that the latest Richard Ravitch plan calls for the elimination of public
hearings for fare hikes.

Mar. 17 2009 12:38 PM
Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA

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
Bird Cars on the IRT, and the completely unnecessary electronic signal
system 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.”

Mar. 17 2009 12:38 PM
Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA

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 scrutiny. 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 at the terminal, it buys a new extension of the 7 train to
the Javits Center, new cars with digital signage, elevators, and electronic
billboards, it builds a completely uneeded new station complex at Fulton
Street to bribe politicians who can't figure out how to rebuild the WTC,
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.

Mar. 17 2009 12:38 PM
Ruben Safir from Brooklyn, USA


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 proven to be an irresponsible steward of this cities
transportation network. It has political muscle 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 they 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 scrutiny. It
borrows money and leaves the bills for the taxpayer and straphangers.

Mar. 17 2009 12:37 PM
stephen sellinger from rockland county

Speaking of words over/misused, do you mean "lectern" when you say "Podium."
This often repeated transposition bothers me almost as much as the term, "Tarmac" for an airport's pavemant. Tarmac is an old roadbed system hardly appropriate for a 747.
As usual, I love your show.

Mar. 17 2009 12:07 PM
Mike from Long Island

Why is MTA immune from job cuts -- every other business that is doing poorly lays off workers.

MTA is a bottomless pit -- how many MTA execs does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Mar. 17 2009 12:00 PM
Tammy from brooklyn

the MTA shouldnt be given a single cent more and rights to more taxation and tolling until they get their own costs under control and that means union sacred cows must be put on the table as well. NY'ers cant afford to throw more money down a hole.

Mar. 17 2009 11:59 AM
mc from Brooklyn

I wish someone would address the gridlock we will get in downtown Brooklyn, not to mention LI City with the tolls. Maybe it's not about the money.

Mar. 17 2009 11:58 AM
Serena from NYC

Mismanagement by the MTA should not be rewarded. Overhaul personnel -- No honest business has two sets of books. The money is being siphoned. There is no difference here from Wall Street.

Mar. 17 2009 11:58 AM
SuzanneNYC from Upper West Side

The only constituent without lobbying power in this sorry mess seems to be the riding public. This is totally pathetic.

Mar. 17 2009 11:57 AM
hjs from 11211

the albany triumvirate is not on the same page yet, what a surprise.

Mar. 17 2009 11:54 AM
Joshua from Manhattan

Please stop saying "Draconian" if I hear it one more time it's going on my list of overused words to be expelled from the english language along with "Mavrck"

Mar. 17 2009 11:53 AM

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