Written by Assemblyman David G. Mcdonough Friday, 21 August 2009 00:00
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) recently released its five-year capital spending plan which lays out how the organization plans to adapt to changing needs and budgetary restrictions during the coming years. Having read the information contained in this $25.5 billion capital spending plan, I am once again confounded by the lack of forward thinking by the MTA.
To begin with, I am dismayed that despite receiving federal funds, a New York State taxpayer bailout and increased vehicle registration fees and payroll taxes from Nassau County residents and businesses, the MTA must still borrow nearly $10 billion. Although the plan works to expand services on Long Island, most notably through improvements on the Long Island Rail Road, this is another example of an organization, much like the state and federal governments, who cannot live within its means.
In addition to containing $10 billion in borrowing, the MTA’s capital spending plan also incorporates nearly $8.2 billion in federal funding and $100 million from city funding. These amounts mean that the MTA is budgeting to receive 25 percent more federal funding than they have ever received before, along with $20 million more from the city. If these funding increases from the federal and city governments turn out to be unwarranted and the budgeted-for monies are not received, the resulting budget gap would once again be passed on to the people of the MTA counties who may or may not use the services provided by the MTA.
Additionally, it was recently disclosed that as a result of transit workers receiving a raise bigger than the 1.5 percent the MTA budgeted, there will be a $350 million budget gap which Nassau and other MTA counties will once again be told to pay for or else rates for using MTA services will once again be raised. One of the more contentious issues during the negotiations on the MTA bailout was at what percentage rates would go up to account for the growing deficit. The “compromise” which was reached was to levy a payroll tax on businesses throughout the 12 MTA counties and have minimal rate increases for straphangers, all of which may be wasted if rate increases are forced to rise as a result of poor budgeting and planning.
Despite these increased revenue steams, both real and hoped for, the MTA clearly does not ever seem to receive the amount of money it wishes to in order to cover its inefficiencies and bloated department budgets. All of this adds up to an organization not forced to live within its means, despite being accountable to the residents of the 12 counties serviced by the MTA and taxpayers who funded the recent bailout.
On behalf of my constituents in the 19th Assembly District, I have always been a vocal opponent of the MTA’s waste and bureaucracy. Earlier this year I called for an independent forensic audit of the MTA because it is clear to me that there can be no accurate call for additional money, in particular taxpayer money, unless an organization is aware of how much money it currently spends, how it spends that money and where money can potentially be saved.
For example, after the bailout was passed, it was shown that more than 10 percent of the MTA’s workers make over $100,000 including overtime. That is 8,214 individuals who make six-figures, many of whom worked large amounts of overtime in order to receive compensation far above their base rate of pay. This information can be found at www.empirecenter.org, a non-partisan think tank which looks to provide accurate and useful information to New York residents and lawmakers.
In conclusion, I would like to urge my constituents to read more about the MTA’s plan by visiting www.mta.info and then submit their comments so that their views can be used toward helping change this plan for the better. Without public input, there is no way that this plan will be changed to accommodate the needs of all MTA county residents, not just those who use its services. If nothing is changed, future generations will be $10 billion more in debt to an organization, which has no credibility or oversight.
I believe there is fat to be cut in the MTA’s current budget and before this capital spending plan is voted on by my colleagues and I in the legislature, the MTA must hear all of our voices in unison calling for reform and change to this broken system.