The Ghost of the MTA's 'Two Sets of Books'

The MTA just can't seem to live down the "two sets of books" scandal that erupted six years ago. Democrats in the state Senate keep dropping that line in interviews, as in, "You really can't trust guys who keep two sets of books, can you?" That's their reason why they won't support the Ravitch plan.

But were there really two sets of books?

The scandal started in April 2003, when then-state Comptroller Alan Hevesi (who has since succumbed to his own scandal), charged that the MTA was intentionally overestimating its budget deficit in order to justify a 50-cent subway fare hike. He said he only discovered where the MTA was stashing its money after subpoenaing the second set of books.

The MTA said the second set of books it provided was really just a 250-page explanation showing how the authority used a current surplus to pay down debt, or moved it to subsequent years, because they foresaw deficits in the future.

The irony is that just nine months after accusing the MTA of OVER-estimating its deficit, Hevesi came out with another report, this time concluding that the MTA was UNDER-estimating its deficits.

MTA watchers (including an state appellate court) have concluded that even if there wasn't really a second set of books, the MTA could do a better job of deliberating in public. Since then, the MTA has been submitting proposed budgets each July, a full five months before they go into effect, and publishing their four-year budget plans to give people an idea of how surpluses, and deficits, play out in the long term.