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

Thursday, March 05, 2009

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.


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Comments [4]

Paul NYC

My feeling about the MTA is that people from the private sector do a lousy job of running what, in effect, is a public utility. Perhaps the cost of running the system in and of itself is really that high, maybe it isn't. But what the MTA is all about is what corporate America is all about, namely, secrecy. As a customer of the MTA five out of the seven days of the week, I want to know where every penny is going. Not a summary of expenses with colors and pretty ribbons on it for effect. I want to see where the money is going. Why is that so hard to provide? Do they not think I as a customer have a right to know exactly what they're spending? This is the reason people are suspicious of them.

May. 13 2010 02:07 PM
Mike Nilsen

The fares collected by the MTA cover about 40-50% of the cost of the average ride, depending on which service your looking at. The same measurement (the "Farebox Operating Ratio") applies to almost every other transit authority. Don't take my word for it; look it up.

If your subway ride wasn't heavily subsidized by the various governments, you's be paying $4-5 for your ride. When the governments don't step up to the plate to provide the subsidies, the service has to suffer.

Blame the politicians who don't value mass transit, and use the MTA as a punching bag.

Jun. 01 2009 11:51 AM

I feel the same way with over a million people using the trains and buses back and forth in five days day and night and weekends your going to tell me there is no money. Someone in the MTA is getting away with murder.

Mar. 26 2009 06:55 PM

With over a million people using the trains and buses back and forth in one day your going to tell me there is no money. Who's putting the money in their pockets. Poor excuse, let me see who is balancing the budgets over there, and for all we know it could be someone that got that job as a favor, You know one hand washes the other. Someone is doing allot of embezzling over there.

Mar. 07 2009 02:39 AM

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