It’s Time for Albany to Take Responsibility for the MTA (With some help from the Feds)
As all of us in New York are aware, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has approved unprecedented fare hikes and devastating service cuts. As a new issue brief by the Drum Major Institute explains, a series of irresponsible political decisions have forced the MTA to take these measures in order to address a projected budget shortfall of $1.2 billion.
The root cause of the budget crisis is simple: for more than twenty years, the state has abdicated responsibility to fund the MTA’s program of system repair, maintenance, and expansion, forcing the MTA to run up an enormous debt. The state has contributed zero dollars for these needs since 1992. Instead, Albany has prioritized low taxes over adequate investments in mass transit. Even worse, Albany’s irresponsible tax policies have been borne by the middle class. A report by the Fiscal Policy Institute shows that by eliminating a number of high-income tax brackets, the state lost $7.7 billion in revenue a year. The state has created these budget crises, and it is the responsibility of the state to solve them.
Not that the state can go at it alone. The federal government also needs to increase its contributions to funding the nation’s largest mass transit system, one that moves 8.5 million riders a day. This is a piece of transportation infrastructure of national importance. As such, the federal government needs to support the MTA’s capital needs on the same level as it funds highways. New highway projects receive between 80 and 90 percent of their total cost from federal funds. Transit projects, on the other hand, only receive at maximum 60 percent of their funding from the federal government. Most of the time federal contributions are much lower. For instance, the Second Avenue Subway is receiving only 27 percent of the total cost of construction from the federal government.
There is still time for Albany to receive the message: we need the state to once again contribute funding the MTA’s essential program of repair, maintenance, and expansion. State contributions should be at the same level they were between 1982 and 1992, between 20 and 11 percent of the total capital plan. At 20 percent, Albany would contribute slightly less than $1 billion a year in capital funding, not unreasonable for a mass transit system that moves the equivalent of nearly half of the state’s population every day.
This is not the time for bashing the MTA, or its employees. This is the time for responsible action from Albany. I will be making the case for this action tonight on “The Road to City Hall” on NY1, where I will be debating Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. I hope you can tune in.