Explaining the MTA's Stimulus Choices

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The Beame Shuffle. It's a phrase that came about in the 1970s when Mayor Abe Beame used federal money to prevent a fare increase on the subway. MTA chairman Jay Walder's resurrected the term this year to warn of taking similar steps with federal stimulus money.

"We spent more than a decade digging out of that hole, at a cost of billions of dollars to the state," Walder said.

But transit advocates say it's the best way to avoid deep service cuts scheduled for this summer.  WNYC transit reporter Matthew Schuerman explains the debate.

What proposal is Walder reacting to?
Transit advocates, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and transit unions say the MTA should take 10 percent of the stimulus money to offset service cuts.

What was the Beame Shuffle and why does Jay Walder think this is the same thing?
The Beame Shuffle involved taking about half of the money the federal government was giving the MTA that year for big construction projects and using it for operating costs. Walder thinks it's a slippery slope: Once you start doing that, you never stop

So is that a fair analogy, that the Beame shuffle is what brought the transit system to its knees?
When I asked that of Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, this is what he said

"It's national policy. It's not an exception for New York. There are other cities around the county -- Atlanta, St. Louis -- that are using that option."

The Beame Shuffle didn't start the decline of the 1970s, only enhanced it. You could argue that you should spend as much money possible.

If the whole point of the stimulus money was to stimulate the economy and put people to work, does it matter whether the money gets spent on capital programs or to keep all buses and subways in operation and prevent service reductions.
Capital programs take longer to get under way --there have been just 20 jobs created so far, while the MTA is proposing to cut 1,350 this summer; on the other hand, this would be a short-term solution. If the federal aid doesn't continue, the MTA says it would have to cut just as many if not more jobs the following year.

Do Christine Quinn and the advocates who are proposing this use of stimulus funds say which capital projects they want to cut?
No. They are leaving that up to the MTA. Right now, the MTA has more ideas on how to spend money than they have money as it is.