As everyone and their mom talks about the MTA’s current mess and how to get out of it, one alternative to chopping transit service has generated the most discussion: using funds from the MTA’s capital budget to plug the deficit. Supported by a number of council members and the Straphangers Campaign, the plan would take money from the capital budget – used for things like maintaining and expanding the system’s infrastructure – and use it for operating expenses, such as salaries and fuel, which is where the immediate gap is. The goal is to make sure the MTA gets through the year without any service cuts while leaders devise a long-term solution.
Gene Russianoff from the Straphangers says it is necessary to do this because of “the harm to riders of service cuts in an already overcrowded system; the new blow to the MTA’s credibility if the agency institutes cuts that the riding public (paying a higher fare since June) were told would not happen; and cuts undermining MTA Chairman Jay Walder’s sensible plans to improve bus service.”
Walder said he’d consider the proposal, according to Reuters, but noted that it was a “slippery slope” which the MTA already once descended in the 1970s, leading to decades of disrepair.
Some advocates get behind the idea only as a last resort. In a post on the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s blog, Kate Slevin said her organization would support using federal stimulus funds meant for capital costs to plug the gap if need be. “This is an unsustainable stopgap measure that will only postpone the problem, and the Campaign does not generally support capital dollars being used for operations,” she wrote. “However, this is a dire situation that may require emergency action.”
But it isn’t even on the table for others. Neysa Pranger of the Regional Plan Association points out that the MTA’s capital budget gap is $9.9 billion dollars over five years while next year’s capital budget is only a fraction of that, at around $383 million. She also stresses that capital spending is important for long-term economic recovery.
The MTA’s cuts would not take place until the summer of 2010, and it must vote to approve them again after the agency holds public hearings on each of the individual service cuts. If recent controversial issues in the state capitol are any indication, no decisions will be made as to whether this is a good or bad idea until the last possible moment.
By Mike Muller on December 17, 2009, 4:36 pm
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