Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/mta 2018-11-15T17:33:30+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com 8 Steps to Fix New York Transit and Get New Yorkers Moving Again 2018-10-22T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8008-8-steps-to-fix-new-york-transit-and-get-new-yorkers-moving-again Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/36331224861_de0a0a4bc6_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo subway repairs" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo underground (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>With the transit system in New York City in constant crisis over a sustained period of time, from delayed trains underground to ever-dropping bus speeds on the streets, the question of how exactly to fix mass transit has been on the minds of elected and appointed officials, advocates and analysts, and, of course, frustrated commuters. In the aftermath of the short-term Subway Action Plan, the <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2018/07/24/we-cant-tell-if-the-subway-action-plan-worked-which-was-the-mtas-whole-idea/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">effectiveness of which was somewhat difficult to quantify</a> and apparently underwhelming, officials are trying to focus on how to provide more long-term physical and fiscal stability for the beleaguered Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).</p> <p>While the ambitious plan to upgrade train signals, bus routes, and MTA spending practices that MTA New York City Transit president Andy Byford has called <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7938-to-save-the-mta-push-fast-forward-ahead-quickly-and-responsibly" target="_blank">Fast Forward seems to be a universally agreed-on blueprint</a> to improve city transit, how the plan gets funded and implemented is somewhat more muddled thanks to political disagreements between state and city leaders.</p> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7999-the-path-forward-for-cuomo-s-one-real-answer-congestion-pricing" target="_blank">has embraced congestion pricing</a>, a plan that would fund the MTA through tolls on vehicles entering Manhattan south of 60th Street, <a href="http://fixnyctransit.org/assets/pdf/fix-nyc-infographic.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">what the Fix NYC panel</a> has determined should be the border of Manhattan’s central business district. Cuomo called the scheme -- which is aimed at both funding the MTA and reducing Manhattan roadway congestion -- an “<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/nyregion/cuomo-rethinks-opposition-to-tolls-to-ease-manhattan-traffic.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">idea whose time has come</a>” last year, but the only part of the proposal that was <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/31/nyregion/congestion-pricing-new-york.html?rref=collection/sectioncollection/nyregion&amp;action=click&amp;contentCollection=nyregion&amp;region=stream&amp;module=stream_unit&amp;version=latest&amp;contentPlacement=5&amp;pgtype=sectionfront" target="_blank" rel="noopener">agreed upon by state leaders this year</a> was new fees on taxis and app-basd for-hire vehicles ($0.75 added to for-hire-vehicle carpool rides, $2.50 on taxi trips and $2.75 on FHV trips that go into Manhattan south of 96th Street), leaving the more difficult matter of adding a toll cordon in Manhattan to be dealt with later -- perhaps in the 2019 state budget, as Cuomo has indicated.</p> <p>Cuomo is also demanding the New York City “<a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2018/10/cuomo-with-li-dems-finds-common-ground-with-pledge/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">pay its fair share</a>” for any subway upgrades, an ask that <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2018/08/31/cuomo-continues-his-ping-pong-approach-to-subway-ownership-588765" target="_blank" rel="noopener">observers have called dubious</a> and one that seems wrapped up in his running feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>For his part, de Blasio has resisted embracing congestion pricing, calling it “regressive” even in the face of data showing <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2018/8/1/17631480/nyc-subway-transit-crisis-congestion-pricing-progressive" target="_blank" rel="noopener">car owners are wealthier than regular city transit riders</a>, and has instead pushed a millionaires tax as a way of providing the MTA a new revenue stream. The mayor’s resistance to congestion pricing has drawn criticism from subway advocates, who have put together <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2018/10/2/17929588/nyc-transit-congestion-pricing-fix-subway-coalition" target="_blank" rel="noopener">an advocacy coalition</a> made up of anti-poverty and transit groups to push for the toll, and the millionaires tax is an idea Cuomo and <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-de-blasio-nixon-senate-democrats-cuomo-millionaire-tax-republicans-20180603-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">even Democratic state Senators have dismissed</a> as not having much support in Albany. In recent months de Blasio <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/02/06/de-blasio-sounds-ready-to-negotiate-on-congestion-pricing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has appeared warmer to congestion pricing</a>, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall as it gains support and appears to be a top Cuomo priority for the new year, pending his own reelection.</p> <p>There’s also <a href="https://signalfail.com/how-to-fix-the-subways/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a coalition of elected officials</a> who feel like the answer is to institute congestion pricing and the millionaires tax, in addition to reinstituting the commuter tax and getting the federal government to end the carried interest loophole. With the expected price for Fast Forward coming to close to $40 billion, these officials argue that neither congestion pricing nor a millionaires tax would provide the needed revenue for the MTA even when combined with contributions by the city and state.</p> <p>Along with the policy-makers themselves, New York’s other top transit minds, who often influence policy outcomes, continue to assess ways to improve the subway and bus systems. Asked by Gotham Gazette how city, state, and MTA leaders can make real improvements, experts outlined roughly eight key steps, ranging from instituting the much-discussed congestion pricing and Fast Forward plans to more ambitious proposals that would encourage the city and state to look at mass transit as an all-encompassing ecosystem instead of separate pieces that happen to operate under a single public authority.</p> <p><strong>1. Fast Forward</strong><br />The transit experts who spokes to Gotham Gazette pegged moving ahead with Fast Forward as an important next step in the life of the MTA. “The Regional Plan Association has long advocated for modernizing the signaling system in the subways, improving bus service, and making all stations ADA accessible, these are fundamental parts of Fast Forward,” said Kate Slevin, the senior vice president of programs and advocacy at RPA.</p> <p>Not only does the Fast Forward plan include the physical improvements that Slevin noted, but it signals to riders and employees at the agency that there could be a new way of doing things going forward. “The MTA finally has a big picture vision, which is important for aligning the priorities of the many projects and fixes that have to be done,” Liam Blank, the advocacy manager at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign told Gotham Gazette. “They've lacked that for a number of years, and as a result we've gotten hodgepodge improvements that don't really show benefits to a majority of commuters.”</p> <p>It’s the signal system upgrade at the heart of the plan, though, that Byford has suggested can be done on 11 line segments in 10 years, that could make the biggest difference according to Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute with a focus on transit. “The single-biggest thing we need to do is get more people onto the trains more reliably, and you can't really do that with the signal system the way it is,” she said. “Even if [the signal upgrades] aren’t on the exact schedule the Fast Forward plan laid out, it's a high-priority, I think it's important,” Gelinas said, noting that the communications-based train control-equipped L train has on-time performances over 90 percent compared to averages of 60 percent performance across the rest of the system, which Gelinas, Byford, and everyone else paying attention wants upgraded to CBTC as quickly as possible.</p> <p><strong>2. Congestion Pricing</strong><br />Of course, implementing Fast Forward will require a large infusion of money for the MTA in order to get this work done. For revenue, and other reasons, transit experts peg congestion pricing as a necessary step to improve city mobility and livability. “There should be costs to bringing a large metal vehicle into the city,” Gelinas said, noting the effect that car traffic has on pedestrians walking around cars in crosswalks and cyclists having to dodge cars in bike lanes.</p> <p>Not only would congestion pricing compel drivers to pay what Blank called “their fare share” for using public infrastructure, it would also free up street space in Manhattan which helps improve bus speeds there. “Fewer cars on the road means that the buses can start to move at speeds comparable to other cities. Right now they're stuck in the same traffic as the rest of the cars, so we have a transit system that's ineffective down below and on the surface,” Blank said.</p> <p>And the need for it, according to Slevin of RPA, is almost impossible to overstate. “I can't stress enough how the key is congestion pricing to help us fix the subway, fix the buses, and provide the revenue for Fast Forward. And we have to get it done in 2019, we have to,” she said.</p> <p><strong>3. Control Costs</strong><br />Whether or not a new revenue source for the MTA comes to fruition, the authority must look at how it actually spends the money it has at its disposal, according to transit watchers. The good news, on that front, is that members of the MTA board have spoken up about cost-controls recently, including <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/news/books/docs/Cost-Containment062018.pptx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a well-received report by Scott Rechler</a> that laid out how the MTA could cut costs by reforming the agency’s bidding and project management processes.</p> <p>“I think the board has laid out some common sense changes to how the MTA does business that will make things more cost effective and done in a more timely manner,” Slevin said, about proposals like <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/mta-vows-to-cut-construction-costs-1529529382" target="_blank" rel="noopener">simplifying contracts and making it easier to change projects on the fly</a>. “But the leadership of the MTA and the whole agency has to be on board with implementing those changes and explain to the public how they're going about that.”</p> <p>Like with many governmental agencies and authorities, personnel costs loom large. A coming jump in employee healthcare costs to $2.6 billion in 2022, according to Gelinas, means the authority should take a look at those and other costs as a preparation to make a bigger ask. “I would like to see a full audit of every single cost. Not even start with cutting health benefits, but are there better ways to deliver this healthcare, look at the labor rules, really justify spending every dollar before you do congestion pricing and say, ‘Oh by the way we need more money too.’"</p> <p>There’s also an upcoming opportunity for the MTA and the Transportation Workers Union to find savings in staffing rules when they negotiate a contract in 2019, according to Jamison Dague, the director of infrastructure studies at the Citizens Budget Commission.</p> <p>“What you'd like to see is some coordination between management and labor to improve productivity,” Dague said. “Whether looking at some of the work rules and the staffing as far as how flexibly you can deploy certain workers for different types of tasks, or even when it comes to hiring, can you can be less specific in the types of job requirements.”</p> <p>Public-facing introspection could help make the case for more funding. “Byford could use a set of talking points on how the MTA is changing inside,” said Jon Orcutt, director of communications and advocacy at TransitCenter. “The line station managers are achieving X, we brought this project to a close under budget, we have our procurement process under review and will be instituting reforms by X month and so forth.”</p> <p>Part of the spending fix can be as simple as the MTA taking a more active role in buying work materials. “Contractors and subcontractors buy the materials like cement and steel,” Gelinas said. “You'd think it would make sense for the MTA to buy those because it's a much bigger purchaser on the world market, and then give them to the contractors. Materials procurement is very opaque and there's a lot of room for corruption and middle men and padding and all kinds of things there,” she said, but the process still flies under the radar and delays projects that are as simple as repairing some stairs.</p> <p><strong>4. Use Current Projects as Proof Points</strong><br />It’s also important for the MTA to prove they can actually improve the lives of New Yorkers, in order to build political support for the authority’s larger plans. The upcoming completion of the 7 train’s much-delayed CBTC signaling system is another opportunity for the MTA to show off what service improvements actually look like, while also explaining how other lines will be upgraded more efficiently, per Fast Forward.</p> <p>“[Andy Byford] needs to deliver on that, and he needs a huge communications push to show why it's gotten better,” Orcutt said. “It would be great for everyone in Queens and also the whole city to see, ‘We re-signaled a line and it's great. And if you want more of that on your subway you have to fund Fast Forward. Delivering something tangible is really key for them.”</p> <p>“The more the MTA can do to build its credibility in the near term will help with some of these longer term funding discussions,” said Slevin of RPA. “The L train shutdown is an opportunity to show you can get a big project done faster and cheaper by ripping off the Band-Aid and having a shorter period of time when there's more pain for riders,” she said, an especially salient point as Fast Forward fixes will <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/05/22/mta-plans-decade-of-hell-to-finally-fix-subways/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">most likely come with massive service disruptions</a>.</p> <p><strong>5. Remember the Buses</strong><br />There is one area where New York City government can exert more control on its own, advocates say, which is the bus system. “The city has [bus lane enforcement] cameras,” Orcutt said. “They can move them around, they can broadcast the fact that the cameras are out there more vigorously,” he said, and can also ask the NYPD to actually enforce the rules against driving and parking in bus lanes, a subject that Orcutt said the mayor “has been completely obtuse about.”</p> <p>And as budget season starts in 2019, Blank of Tri-State Transportation said the city and MTA should lobby state lawmakers for even more bus lane cameras, an improvement that advocates called for in a recent “<a href="http://busturnaround.nyc/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/BusTurnaroundAction-Plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Fast Bus, Fair City</a>” report. Blank also said the city should follow another one of the report’s recommendations and add 100 miles of bus lanes in the next five years, on top of the city’s existing 120 miles of lanes.</p> <p>Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute suggested a more radical redesign of the city’s streets if human-based enforcement didn’t speed the buses up. “The city can do more with the physical infrastructure itself, something like building out a curb so the traffic can't easily get into a bus lane. They do that in Paris, with reverse bus thoroughfares, so buses come in the opposite direction of traffic. So you'd have to be very stupid to go into that lane and be hit by a bus. When human enforcement of things like speeds and double parking doesn't work, use the physical environment to nudge people in the right direction,” she said.</p> <p><strong>6. Don’t Silo; See an Ecosystem</strong><br />Taking care of the bus system is part of an overall attitude shift that needs to happen, one that sees transit as one interconnected system instead of competing ways of getting around. “I think that for far too long transit has been seen in silos, and as a result it's created a disjointed transportation network that we have today, mainly in terms of how it functions,” Blank said. “Things don't have proper transfers, the investments are clearly unequal between the systems and especially between different neighborhoods. So we need to start seeing these things as complementary and operating like an ecosystem.”</p> <p>Taking care of the buses, in an example Slevin laid out, would make it that much easier to work on the subways during Fast Forward. “You have to make the bus system faster so you have a reliable alternative when you're fixing the subway,” Slevin said. “So if you have a bus system that functions better you can have longer term windows to work on the subway.” Slevin also gave an endorsement to Scott Stringer’s <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2018/10/17/17989688/nyc-transportation-lirr-metro-north-reduced-fare" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new proposal to provide a single-ride ticket</a> for use among the subway, bus, and LIRR and Metro-North stations located in the city.</p> <p>A vision of interconnected transit can even extend to pieces of it outside of the MTA’s purview, according to Associate Director of NYU Rudin Center for Transportation Sarah Kaufman. “I imagine an app like Citymapper, which already integrates multiple modes seamlessly into its direction platform, also providing a payment option through pre-loaded funds. Perhaps 10 Citi Bike rides would lead to a free ride, or 20 subway trips earns the user a discount. During gridlock alert days, prices could surge on Ubers while remaining low on transit in order to modify New Yorkers' behavior,” she said.</p> <p>While New York isn’t set to completely phase out the MetroCard in favor of a contactless fare payment <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/metrocard-fare-payment-1.19188463" target="_blank" rel="noopener">until 2023</a>, the city can look to places <a href="https://www.amny.com/news/mta-card-cubic-1.19179667" target="_blank" rel="noopener">like Chicago</a> where transit users can connect to the subway, buses, and bike share system with a single app..</p> <p><strong>7. Expansion’s Also a Must</strong><br />While the MTA has to make sure the trains and buses they actually have now are running effectively, there’s still a need to grow the transit system according to some experts.</p> <p>“I don't think we can afford to wait another 20 years to add three stops to the Second Avenue subway. We have to be doing [<a href="https://londonist.com/london/transport/everything-you-need-to-know-about-crossrail" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Crossrail-type</a>] of things here too if we want people to have a good quality of life. I don't think it's too ambitious,” Gelinas said in response to the question of whether the MTA should have to choose between bringing the subway system up to good repair or expanding it.</p> <p>Slevin at the RPA made the case that the MTA should study expansion now, since it typically takes so long to get a huge new project off the ground. “It takes many years to build new transit lines so the MTA could start studying the Triboro now, and then be ready to build once resources become available,” she said, making the case for the <a href="http://library.rpa.org/interactive/the-triboro/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Brooklyn/Queens/Bronx line that the RPA has endorsed</a> and which would largely run on existing &nbsp;little-used, above-ground railroad tracks, thus requiring significantly less construction than another new subway line, while also providing much needed access between boroughs that doesn’t rely on trips into Manhattan.</p> <p>“Part of the reason we are in the transit mess we are in now is because we failed to invest in the system, modernize it, and build new lines to meet growing demand. We can’t make that mistake again,” said Slevin, also <a href="http://fourthplan.org/action/new-subways" target="_blank" rel="noopener">arguing for expansions</a> like the Utica Avenue line in Brooklyn, building the Q into the Bronx, and a Jewel Avenue line in central Queens, all subway extensions into dense, transit-starved neighborhoods.</p> <p>Gelinas echoed Slevin’s argument that a current lack of real planning could doom the city down the road. “We should be able to do two things at once, and if we can't, we're really harming the future of the city.</p> <p><strong>8. Communication is Key</strong><br />As any perusal of Twitter will show you during a morning commute meltdown, transit riders are almost as annoyed by a lack of information about delays and trains getting rerouted as they are by travel disruptions themselves. Beyond confusing and irritating commuters, a lack of communication saps enthusiasm for proposals that would improve the system. “People understand when there's a real problem, but what they hate is not getting straight talk about it,” said Orcutt of TransitCenter. “If people don't feel like the MTA is levelling with them, it's much harder to get them to rally around more funding,” he explained.</p> <p>“Multiple studies have shown that passengers mostly trust the transit agency when they are provided real-time information -- even when it's bad news,” Kaufman told Gotham Gazette. “The information gives the perception of control over the system, whereas only sharing the word ‘delay’ does not.” Kaufman recommended the agency lean on specifics when telling riders why their train is delayed, especially since clearly communicating something like a signal failure could encourage riders to lean on elected officials to focus more on the issue of signal replacement.</p> <p>“[Communication] should just be a management thing. You don't need new anything for that, you just run it well and have somebody in charge,” Orcutt said. It’s a step the agency has made some movement on, hiring Sarah Meyer <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/new-mta-chief-customer-officer-tackles-communication-issues-article-1.3871233" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as the agency’s chief customer officer</a>, but the effort at clear, timely, and focused communication <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2018/7/30/17632214/mta-nyc-subway-communication-fast-forward" target="_blank" rel="noopener">is obviously still dogging the MTA</a> with the occasional management failure and <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/subway-countdown-clock-complaints-1.15351692" target="_blank" rel="noopener">inaccurate countdown clock and website information</a>.</p> <p>While improving the way the MTA shares real-time problems plaguing the subway system won’t actually fix those problems the way other solutions can, it will at least help with the perception of screaming, or tweeting, into a bureaucratic void when something goes wrong.</p> <p>

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/36331224861_de0a0a4bc6_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo subway repairs" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo underground (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>With the transit system in New York City in constant crisis over a sustained period of time, from delayed trains underground to ever-dropping bus speeds on the streets, the question of how exactly to fix mass transit has been on the minds of elected and appointed officials, advocates and analysts, and, of course, frustrated commuters. In the aftermath of the short-term Subway Action Plan, the <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2018/07/24/we-cant-tell-if-the-subway-action-plan-worked-which-was-the-mtas-whole-idea/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">effectiveness of which was somewhat difficult to quantify</a> and apparently underwhelming, officials are trying to focus on how to provide more long-term physical and fiscal stability for the beleaguered Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).</p> <p>While the ambitious plan to upgrade train signals, bus routes, and MTA spending practices that MTA New York City Transit president Andy Byford has called <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7938-to-save-the-mta-push-fast-forward-ahead-quickly-and-responsibly" target="_blank">Fast Forward seems to be a universally agreed-on blueprint</a> to improve city transit, how the plan gets funded and implemented is somewhat more muddled thanks to political disagreements between state and city leaders.</p> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7999-the-path-forward-for-cuomo-s-one-real-answer-congestion-pricing" target="_blank">has embraced congestion pricing</a>, a plan that would fund the MTA through tolls on vehicles entering Manhattan south of 60th Street, <a href="http://fixnyctransit.org/assets/pdf/fix-nyc-infographic.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">what the Fix NYC panel</a> has determined should be the border of Manhattan’s central business district. Cuomo called the scheme -- which is aimed at both funding the MTA and reducing Manhattan roadway congestion -- an “<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/nyregion/cuomo-rethinks-opposition-to-tolls-to-ease-manhattan-traffic.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">idea whose time has come</a>” last year, but the only part of the proposal that was <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/31/nyregion/congestion-pricing-new-york.html?rref=collection/sectioncollection/nyregion&amp;action=click&amp;contentCollection=nyregion&amp;region=stream&amp;module=stream_unit&amp;version=latest&amp;contentPlacement=5&amp;pgtype=sectionfront" target="_blank" rel="noopener">agreed upon by state leaders this year</a> was new fees on taxis and app-basd for-hire vehicles ($0.75 added to for-hire-vehicle carpool rides, $2.50 on taxi trips and $2.75 on FHV trips that go into Manhattan south of 96th Street), leaving the more difficult matter of adding a toll cordon in Manhattan to be dealt with later -- perhaps in the 2019 state budget, as Cuomo has indicated.</p> <p>Cuomo is also demanding the New York City “<a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2018/10/cuomo-with-li-dems-finds-common-ground-with-pledge/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">pay its fair share</a>” for any subway upgrades, an ask that <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2018/08/31/cuomo-continues-his-ping-pong-approach-to-subway-ownership-588765" target="_blank" rel="noopener">observers have called dubious</a> and one that seems wrapped up in his running feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>For his part, de Blasio has resisted embracing congestion pricing, calling it “regressive” even in the face of data showing <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2018/8/1/17631480/nyc-subway-transit-crisis-congestion-pricing-progressive" target="_blank" rel="noopener">car owners are wealthier than regular city transit riders</a>, and has instead pushed a millionaires tax as a way of providing the MTA a new revenue stream. The mayor’s resistance to congestion pricing has drawn criticism from subway advocates, who have put together <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2018/10/2/17929588/nyc-transit-congestion-pricing-fix-subway-coalition" target="_blank" rel="noopener">an advocacy coalition</a> made up of anti-poverty and transit groups to push for the toll, and the millionaires tax is an idea Cuomo and <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-de-blasio-nixon-senate-democrats-cuomo-millionaire-tax-republicans-20180603-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">even Democratic state Senators have dismissed</a> as not having much support in Albany. In recent months de Blasio <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/02/06/de-blasio-sounds-ready-to-negotiate-on-congestion-pricing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has appeared warmer to congestion pricing</a>, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall as it gains support and appears to be a top Cuomo priority for the new year, pending his own reelection.</p> <p>There’s also <a href="https://signalfail.com/how-to-fix-the-subways/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a coalition of elected officials</a> who feel like the answer is to institute congestion pricing and the millionaires tax, in addition to reinstituting the commuter tax and getting the federal government to end the carried interest loophole. With the expected price for Fast Forward coming to close to $40 billion, these officials argue that neither congestion pricing nor a millionaires tax would provide the needed revenue for the MTA even when combined with contributions by the city and state.</p> <p>Along with the policy-makers themselves, New York’s other top transit minds, who often influence policy outcomes, continue to assess ways to improve the subway and bus systems. Asked by Gotham Gazette how city, state, and MTA leaders can make real improvements, experts outlined roughly eight key steps, ranging from instituting the much-discussed congestion pricing and Fast Forward plans to more ambitious proposals that would encourage the city and state to look at mass transit as an all-encompassing ecosystem instead of separate pieces that happen to operate under a single public authority.</p> <p><strong>1. Fast Forward</strong><br />The transit experts who spokes to Gotham Gazette pegged moving ahead with Fast Forward as an important next step in the life of the MTA. “The Regional Plan Association has long advocated for modernizing the signaling system in the subways, improving bus service, and making all stations ADA accessible, these are fundamental parts of Fast Forward,” said Kate Slevin, the senior vice president of programs and advocacy at RPA.</p> <p>Not only does the Fast Forward plan include the physical improvements that Slevin noted, but it signals to riders and employees at the agency that there could be a new way of doing things going forward. “The MTA finally has a big picture vision, which is important for aligning the priorities of the many projects and fixes that have to be done,” Liam Blank, the advocacy manager at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign told Gotham Gazette. “They've lacked that for a number of years, and as a result we've gotten hodgepodge improvements that don't really show benefits to a majority of commuters.”</p> <p>It’s the signal system upgrade at the heart of the plan, though, that Byford has suggested can be done on 11 line segments in 10 years, that could make the biggest difference according to Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute with a focus on transit. “The single-biggest thing we need to do is get more people onto the trains more reliably, and you can't really do that with the signal system the way it is,” she said. “Even if [the signal upgrades] aren’t on the exact schedule the Fast Forward plan laid out, it's a high-priority, I think it's important,” Gelinas said, noting that the communications-based train control-equipped L train has on-time performances over 90 percent compared to averages of 60 percent performance across the rest of the system, which Gelinas, Byford, and everyone else paying attention wants upgraded to CBTC as quickly as possible.</p> <p><strong>2. Congestion Pricing</strong><br />Of course, implementing Fast Forward will require a large infusion of money for the MTA in order to get this work done. For revenue, and other reasons, transit experts peg congestion pricing as a necessary step to improve city mobility and livability. “There should be costs to bringing a large metal vehicle into the city,” Gelinas said, noting the effect that car traffic has on pedestrians walking around cars in crosswalks and cyclists having to dodge cars in bike lanes.</p> <p>Not only would congestion pricing compel drivers to pay what Blank called “their fare share” for using public infrastructure, it would also free up street space in Manhattan which helps improve bus speeds there. “Fewer cars on the road means that the buses can start to move at speeds comparable to other cities. Right now they're stuck in the same traffic as the rest of the cars, so we have a transit system that's ineffective down below and on the surface,” Blank said.</p> <p>And the need for it, according to Slevin of RPA, is almost impossible to overstate. “I can't stress enough how the key is congestion pricing to help us fix the subway, fix the buses, and provide the revenue for Fast Forward. And we have to get it done in 2019, we have to,” she said.</p> <p><strong>3. Control Costs</strong><br />Whether or not a new revenue source for the MTA comes to fruition, the authority must look at how it actually spends the money it has at its disposal, according to transit watchers. The good news, on that front, is that members of the MTA board have spoken up about cost-controls recently, including <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/news/books/docs/Cost-Containment062018.pptx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a well-received report by Scott Rechler</a> that laid out how the MTA could cut costs by reforming the agency’s bidding and project management processes.</p> <p>“I think the board has laid out some common sense changes to how the MTA does business that will make things more cost effective and done in a more timely manner,” Slevin said, about proposals like <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/mta-vows-to-cut-construction-costs-1529529382" target="_blank" rel="noopener">simplifying contracts and making it easier to change projects on the fly</a>. “But the leadership of the MTA and the whole agency has to be on board with implementing those changes and explain to the public how they're going about that.”</p> <p>Like with many governmental agencies and authorities, personnel costs loom large. A coming jump in employee healthcare costs to $2.6 billion in 2022, according to Gelinas, means the authority should take a look at those and other costs as a preparation to make a bigger ask. “I would like to see a full audit of every single cost. Not even start with cutting health benefits, but are there better ways to deliver this healthcare, look at the labor rules, really justify spending every dollar before you do congestion pricing and say, ‘Oh by the way we need more money too.’"</p> <p>There’s also an upcoming opportunity for the MTA and the Transportation Workers Union to find savings in staffing rules when they negotiate a contract in 2019, according to Jamison Dague, the director of infrastructure studies at the Citizens Budget Commission.</p> <p>“What you'd like to see is some coordination between management and labor to improve productivity,” Dague said. “Whether looking at some of the work rules and the staffing as far as how flexibly you can deploy certain workers for different types of tasks, or even when it comes to hiring, can you can be less specific in the types of job requirements.”</p> <p>Public-facing introspection could help make the case for more funding. “Byford could use a set of talking points on how the MTA is changing inside,” said Jon Orcutt, director of communications and advocacy at TransitCenter. “The line station managers are achieving X, we brought this project to a close under budget, we have our procurement process under review and will be instituting reforms by X month and so forth.”</p> <p>Part of the spending fix can be as simple as the MTA taking a more active role in buying work materials. “Contractors and subcontractors buy the materials like cement and steel,” Gelinas said. “You'd think it would make sense for the MTA to buy those because it's a much bigger purchaser on the world market, and then give them to the contractors. Materials procurement is very opaque and there's a lot of room for corruption and middle men and padding and all kinds of things there,” she said, but the process still flies under the radar and delays projects that are as simple as repairing some stairs.</p> <p><strong>4. Use Current Projects as Proof Points</strong><br />It’s also important for the MTA to prove they can actually improve the lives of New Yorkers, in order to build political support for the authority’s larger plans. The upcoming completion of the 7 train’s much-delayed CBTC signaling system is another opportunity for the MTA to show off what service improvements actually look like, while also explaining how other lines will be upgraded more efficiently, per Fast Forward.</p> <p>“[Andy Byford] needs to deliver on that, and he needs a huge communications push to show why it's gotten better,” Orcutt said. “It would be great for everyone in Queens and also the whole city to see, ‘We re-signaled a line and it's great. And if you want more of that on your subway you have to fund Fast Forward. Delivering something tangible is really key for them.”</p> <p>“The more the MTA can do to build its credibility in the near term will help with some of these longer term funding discussions,” said Slevin of RPA. “The L train shutdown is an opportunity to show you can get a big project done faster and cheaper by ripping off the Band-Aid and having a shorter period of time when there's more pain for riders,” she said, an especially salient point as Fast Forward fixes will <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/05/22/mta-plans-decade-of-hell-to-finally-fix-subways/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">most likely come with massive service disruptions</a>.</p> <p><strong>5. Remember the Buses</strong><br />There is one area where New York City government can exert more control on its own, advocates say, which is the bus system. “The city has [bus lane enforcement] cameras,” Orcutt said. “They can move them around, they can broadcast the fact that the cameras are out there more vigorously,” he said, and can also ask the NYPD to actually enforce the rules against driving and parking in bus lanes, a subject that Orcutt said the mayor “has been completely obtuse about.”</p> <p>And as budget season starts in 2019, Blank of Tri-State Transportation said the city and MTA should lobby state lawmakers for even more bus lane cameras, an improvement that advocates called for in a recent “<a href="http://busturnaround.nyc/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/BusTurnaroundAction-Plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Fast Bus, Fair City</a>” report. Blank also said the city should follow another one of the report’s recommendations and add 100 miles of bus lanes in the next five years, on top of the city’s existing 120 miles of lanes.</p> <p>Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute suggested a more radical redesign of the city’s streets if human-based enforcement didn’t speed the buses up. “The city can do more with the physical infrastructure itself, something like building out a curb so the traffic can't easily get into a bus lane. They do that in Paris, with reverse bus thoroughfares, so buses come in the opposite direction of traffic. So you'd have to be very stupid to go into that lane and be hit by a bus. When human enforcement of things like speeds and double parking doesn't work, use the physical environment to nudge people in the right direction,” she said.</p> <p><strong>6. Don’t Silo; See an Ecosystem</strong><br />Taking care of the bus system is part of an overall attitude shift that needs to happen, one that sees transit as one interconnected system instead of competing ways of getting around. “I think that for far too long transit has been seen in silos, and as a result it's created a disjointed transportation network that we have today, mainly in terms of how it functions,” Blank said. “Things don't have proper transfers, the investments are clearly unequal between the systems and especially between different neighborhoods. So we need to start seeing these things as complementary and operating like an ecosystem.”</p> <p>Taking care of the buses, in an example Slevin laid out, would make it that much easier to work on the subways during Fast Forward. “You have to make the bus system faster so you have a reliable alternative when you're fixing the subway,” Slevin said. “So if you have a bus system that functions better you can have longer term windows to work on the subway.” Slevin also gave an endorsement to Scott Stringer’s <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2018/10/17/17989688/nyc-transportation-lirr-metro-north-reduced-fare" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new proposal to provide a single-ride ticket</a> for use among the subway, bus, and LIRR and Metro-North stations located in the city.</p> <p>A vision of interconnected transit can even extend to pieces of it outside of the MTA’s purview, according to Associate Director of NYU Rudin Center for Transportation Sarah Kaufman. “I imagine an app like Citymapper, which already integrates multiple modes seamlessly into its direction platform, also providing a payment option through pre-loaded funds. Perhaps 10 Citi Bike rides would lead to a free ride, or 20 subway trips earns the user a discount. During gridlock alert days, prices could surge on Ubers while remaining low on transit in order to modify New Yorkers' behavior,” she said.</p> <p>While New York isn’t set to completely phase out the MetroCard in favor of a contactless fare payment <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/metrocard-fare-payment-1.19188463" target="_blank" rel="noopener">until 2023</a>, the city can look to places <a href="https://www.amny.com/news/mta-card-cubic-1.19179667" target="_blank" rel="noopener">like Chicago</a> where transit users can connect to the subway, buses, and bike share system with a single app..</p> <p><strong>7. Expansion’s Also a Must</strong><br />While the MTA has to make sure the trains and buses they actually have now are running effectively, there’s still a need to grow the transit system according to some experts.</p> <p>“I don't think we can afford to wait another 20 years to add three stops to the Second Avenue subway. We have to be doing [<a href="https://londonist.com/london/transport/everything-you-need-to-know-about-crossrail" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Crossrail-type</a>] of things here too if we want people to have a good quality of life. I don't think it's too ambitious,” Gelinas said in response to the question of whether the MTA should have to choose between bringing the subway system up to good repair or expanding it.</p> <p>Slevin at the RPA made the case that the MTA should study expansion now, since it typically takes so long to get a huge new project off the ground. “It takes many years to build new transit lines so the MTA could start studying the Triboro now, and then be ready to build once resources become available,” she said, making the case for the <a href="http://library.rpa.org/interactive/the-triboro/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Brooklyn/Queens/Bronx line that the RPA has endorsed</a> and which would largely run on existing &nbsp;little-used, above-ground railroad tracks, thus requiring significantly less construction than another new subway line, while also providing much needed access between boroughs that doesn’t rely on trips into Manhattan.</p> <p>“Part of the reason we are in the transit mess we are in now is because we failed to invest in the system, modernize it, and build new lines to meet growing demand. We can’t make that mistake again,” said Slevin, also <a href="http://fourthplan.org/action/new-subways" target="_blank" rel="noopener">arguing for expansions</a> like the Utica Avenue line in Brooklyn, building the Q into the Bronx, and a Jewel Avenue line in central Queens, all subway extensions into dense, transit-starved neighborhoods.</p> <p>Gelinas echoed Slevin’s argument that a current lack of real planning could doom the city down the road. “We should be able to do two things at once, and if we can't, we're really harming the future of the city.</p> <p><strong>8. Communication is Key</strong><br />As any perusal of Twitter will show you during a morning commute meltdown, transit riders are almost as annoyed by a lack of information about delays and trains getting rerouted as they are by travel disruptions themselves. Beyond confusing and irritating commuters, a lack of communication saps enthusiasm for proposals that would improve the system. “People understand when there's a real problem, but what they hate is not getting straight talk about it,” said Orcutt of TransitCenter. “If people don't feel like the MTA is levelling with them, it's much harder to get them to rally around more funding,” he explained.</p> <p>“Multiple studies have shown that passengers mostly trust the transit agency when they are provided real-time information -- even when it's bad news,” Kaufman told Gotham Gazette. “The information gives the perception of control over the system, whereas only sharing the word ‘delay’ does not.” Kaufman recommended the agency lean on specifics when telling riders why their train is delayed, especially since clearly communicating something like a signal failure could encourage riders to lean on elected officials to focus more on the issue of signal replacement.</p> <p>“[Communication] should just be a management thing. You don't need new anything for that, you just run it well and have somebody in charge,” Orcutt said. It’s a step the agency has made some movement on, hiring Sarah Meyer <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/new-mta-chief-customer-officer-tackles-communication-issues-article-1.3871233" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as the agency’s chief customer officer</a>, but the effort at clear, timely, and focused communication <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2018/7/30/17632214/mta-nyc-subway-communication-fast-forward" target="_blank" rel="noopener">is obviously still dogging the MTA</a> with the occasional management failure and <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/subway-countdown-clock-complaints-1.15351692" target="_blank" rel="noopener">inaccurate countdown clock and website information</a>.</p> <p>While improving the way the MTA shares real-time problems plaguing the subway system won’t actually fix those problems the way other solutions can, it will at least help with the perception of screaming, or tweeting, into a bureaucratic void when something goes wrong.</p> <p>

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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The Path Forward for Cuomo's 'One Real Answer,' Congestion Pricing 2018-10-16T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7999-the-path-forward-for-cuomo-s-one-real-answer-congestion-pricing Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/gov-cuomo-congepric.jpg" alt="gov cuomo congepric" width="600" /></p> <p>Cuomo in the midst of his ABNY presentation</p> <hr /> <p>One major issue that hung over the 2018 state budget season was congestion pricing, a plan to charge a fee to all motor vehicles entering parts of Manhattan and diverting the revenue toward funding the beleaguered subway system. Governor Andrew Cuomo directed a panel to study the issue, which determined that a congestion pricing scheme should be implemented and offered options for what it could look like, including a three-year, three-phase proposal. Activist groups applied significant public pressure on the governor and the Legislature. Newspaper opinion pages endorsed the idea.</p> <p>But in the end, only a small part of the plan came to fruition in the budget: a surcharge on for-hire vehicles, including traditional taxis and app-based rides, entering the Manhattan business district. New charges on other cars and trucks did not come to pass. Activists excoriated Cuomo, while the governor blamed the Legislature. Cuomo said that an important first step had been passed and that he would work on additional steps in the future. That process would be led by a budget-created advisory “workgroup” made up of appointees from various stakeholders, including the governor, legislative leaders, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>Since the March budget deal, the chorus calling for congestion pricing -- both to reduce street traffic in Manhattan and to secure a steady revenue stream to help support repair of the faltering subways -- has only grown, in number and volume.</p> <p>Now, supporters of congestion pricing, from activists to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and many others, want to ensure that it makes it into the next budget. They see a potentially more favorable environment, though a lot will be determined by the results of November’s elections, and by the pressure they put on those running.</p> <p>“It's my impression that pretty much everyone running for office right now at least in the city supports congestion pricing, so I think that puts us in a position to win this year,” said Rebecca Bailin, the political director of the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, referring to candidates for state Assembly and Senate.</p> <p>Riders Alliance is a part of a new coalition, announced earlier this month, consisting of a diverse group of advocacy organizations, including those focused on the environment, immigrants, social justice, low-income communities and communities of color, and others, organized to push congestion pricing over the finish line. Between now and budget season, the groups will engage in both public demonstrations and private meetings with legislators in an attempt to steer the Legislature and governor toward implementing a full congestion pricing plan.</p> <p>“We are all so reliant on our subways and buses,” Bailin said. “It is a social justice issue because it can either be a barrier or an entryway to economic opportunity, to cultural access in this city, to all the things that the city has to offer.”</p> <p>The results of the recent primary elections have renewed hope that 2019 could finally be the year.</p> <p>Discussion of congestion pricing and funding and fixing the MTA was a centerpiece of the Cuomo-Cynthia Nixon primary, with the governor regularly pointing to congestion pricing and the new Fast Forward plan put forth by MTA leadership to upgrade the transit system. Six of the eight members of the recently-defunct Independent Democratic Conference of the state Senate were defeated by insurgent Democrats who largely staked out more strongly supportive positions on congestion pricing than the incumbents.</p> <p>Some of those defeated, like Senators Jesse Hamilton and Jose Peralta, were supporters of the scheme and were replaced by other supporters; on the other hand, cautious supporter John Liu defeated a vocal opponent, Senator Tony Avella, who is continuing his run in the general election on the Independence and Women’s Equality lines. Even Republican Senator Martin Golden of Southern Brooklyn, a perennial foe of transit and street safety activists, calls himself a supporter of congestion pricing.</p> <p>"The Senate, whether controlled by the Democrats or the Republicans, is always a complicated picture,” said Alex Matthiessen, the founder of the Move NY campaign, whose comprehensive congestion pricing plan has served as a model for legislative proposals since 2015, in an email. “But the replacement of the IDC and many of its members with a crop of progressive, hungry and decidedly pro-congestion pricing senators-in-waiting portends well for this effort. But regardless of partisan control of the legislature there’s one constant: city transportation is a disaster and it’s on lawmakers to act.”</p> <p>Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the likely majority leader if the Democrats take the Senate, represents a suburban district and does not have a clear position on congestion pricing. A report by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign found that only <a href="http://www.tstc.org/reports/cpsheets/burbSenate_factsheet_district%2035.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">3.9 percent</a> of Stewart-Cousins’ constituents, those driving alone into Manhattan’s proposed congestion pricing zone, would be affected by the charge. Stewart-Cousins’ office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.</p> <p>In the Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx is a supporter of congestion pricing, though some advocates <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/03/14/while-cuomo-sits-on-the-sidelines-the-assemblys-joke-of-a-congestion-pricing-plan-fills-the-vacuum/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">criticized</a> him last year for not pushing hard enough for the proposal. Heastie’s office also did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who served as deputy minority leader prior to the reunification of the IDC and may return to a deputy leader role in January, was once a skeptic of congestion pricing, but is now a supporter. He also supports Mayor de Blasio’s millionaires’ tax proposal, which he says can help fill the gap left between what’s funded by congestion pricing and what a comprehensive transit fix will actually cost.</p> <p>“A Democratic Senate would certainly prioritize the stability and funding of the MTA, which the Republican Senate has not done,” Gianaris said in an interview. “So I think it’s a prerequisite to get to a realistic end to have a Democratic Senate. As for whether the Senate would embrace congestion pricing, beyond those of us that already do, I can’t speak for others. We’re gonna have to have those conversations. I don’t even know which senators I’m going to be looking at, because we’re hoping to pick up a lot more senators in a couple weeks.”</p> <p>Cuomo, too, has only attached himself more to congestion pricing. At an event hosted by the Association for a Better New York on October 4, Cuomo said that since neither God, the city, nor the state would cough up $33 billion needed for the Fast Forward plan, “the only realistic option is congestion pricing, we have to get it done, we have to get it done next year, I need your help.”</p> <p>For now, Cuomo has activists somewhat convinced.</p> <p>“I am optimistic based on what he said about the need to fund the MTA,” Bailin said of Cuomo’s ABNY remarks.</p> <p>Cuomo’s FixNYC panel recommended, in a January <a href="http://www.hntb.com/HNTB/media/HNTBMediaLibrary/Home/Fix-NYC-Panel-Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>, a broad but “phased” congestion pricing program. The for-hire vehicle surcharge, phase 2, passed, but other parts and phases of the plan did not, leaving many boosters disappointed, and some accusing Cuomo of a “<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7578-cuomo-accused-of-bait-and-switch-on-congestion-pricing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bait-and-switch</a>.”</p> <p>“The Governor single-handedly revived the idea of congestion pricing and succeeded in passing the first phase of the FixNYC plan including a fee on for-hire vehicles that will go into effect next year as well as empaneling a new MTA advisory group that will provide recommendations before end of year as we develop the executive budget proposal,” Cuomo spokesperson Peter Ajemian said in a statement. “The Governor has been clear congestion pricing is the most realistic way to help fund the NYCT modernization plan and will continue leading the charge to convince legislators to pass it next year.”</p> <p>The new advisory group is the MTA Sustainability Advisory Workgroup, which formally met for the first time last month and is tasked with coming up with a comprehensive plan for funding a major transit overhaul plan like Fast Forward by December 31. Though created in the enacted budget that passed in March, the panel’s members were not named until August, after <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/08/02/riders-alliance-cuomo-must-convene-congestion-pricing-workgroup-by-august-15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Riders Alliance</a> publicly called for the appointments. The group’s fairly tight timeline is compounded by the sheer immensity of the task before it.</p> <p>But, the workgroup represents a much broader array of perspectives than FixNYC, which was an entirely Cuomo-appointed panel. The panel consists of two Cuomo appointees: CEO of the Partnership for New York City Kathryn Wylde and Metro North Commuter Council member Rhonda Herman; two appointees of congestion pricing skeptic Mayor Bill de Blasio: former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Senator Gianaris; one appointee of MTA Chair Joe Lhota: Vice Chair Fernando Ferrer; two from the Senate: former City Council Member Andrew Eristoff and former DOT engineer Michael Shamma; and two from the Assembly: Assemblymembers Amy Paulin and Michael Benedetto.</p> <p>“It is a group of well-meaning individuals who are trying to make recommendations to solve the MTA’s funding crisis,” Gianaris said. “And the MTA crisis in general, regardless of funding. I think efficiency is one of the other things we’re going to be looking at as well.”</p> <p>Even de Blasio appears to be warming to the idea of congestion pricing, evidenced by his appointment of <a href="https://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20170907/POLITICS/170909915/mark-viverito-defies-de-blasio-backs-congestion-pricing-as-a-way-to-fund-subways" target="_blank" rel="noopener">two</a>&nbsp;supporters to the panel.</p> <p>The panel has met three times so far, and Wylde, the chair, says that the meetings will occur weekly or biweekly until the end of the year, when a set of recommendations must be produced. The initial focus has been determining what the funding needs of the MTA are and how congestion pricing could form part of a solution, but the panel is empowered to go well beyond that in its recommended solutions.</p> <p>“FixNYC was really focused on congestion pricing and how to implement it,” Gianaris said. “That is just one element of what this group is doing.”</p> <p>Wylde elaborated on that point.</p> <p>“It may be funding mechanisms, it may be reforms,” Wylde said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “Structural and other reforms in how the MTA raises its own revenues. And then all the issues associated with congestion pricing: 1) to build support, and 2) to achieve the dual goals of new revenue generation and traffic reduction. So those have been the focus of the conversation so far.”</p> <p>New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s much-talked about Fast Forward plan to modernize the subway system has been projected to cost roughly $40 billion over ten years, though Cuomo has used the $33 billion figure. Wylde said that unanimity on a true cost does not exist on the panel, and that part of the panel’s focus is in determining what it would be.</p> <p>Congestion pricing remains the crux of the negotiations, and its status as a major part of the long-term transit solution appears to be agreed upon. But most analysts agree that congestion pricing would not alone cover the massive cost of fixing the transit system, and that other mechanisms are necessary as well. Estimates for annual congestion pricing revenue vary, and depend on what the program actually looks like, but have been in the $1 billion range.</p> <p>The new advisory panel’s recommended solutions could, theoretically, include any of a variety of measures beyond congestion pricing -- including labor reforms, changes to the MTA’s budgeting process, an added surcharge to high-income earners’ taxes, fare hikes, or value capture -- to address long-term funding and spending issues.</p> <p>“We will be careful about mission creep,” Wylde said. “The primary goal here is to identify the gap and make specific recommendations on how to deal with it, and most specifically, it’s to try and resolve an approach to congestion pricing. And so, I think that’s the focus, and to the extent that the gap exceeds the revenues that one can project from congestion pricing, looking at other sources of funding or cost reduction.”</p> <p>The panel’s work will be informed by that of outside experts and advocates, and by previous plans such as FixNYC and Move NY, as well as by the expertise that the panel members themselves have from work on these issues. Political questions will come into consideration as well, especially considering the presence of three current and two former elected officials. The nature of the panel’s makeup -- that numerous stakeholders, rather than just one, appointed its members -- may allow for a broader consensus to be formed in such a way that is palatable to all parties.</p> <p>“To date, I don't think party politics are playing a role,” Wylde said. “Obviously, the political sensibilities of all members of the group play into what they think is realistic and what can be accomplished. So, it's a politically sophisticated group, but not one that's just gonna be at the mercy of party politics.”</p> <p>The November elections will, of course, hold significant influence over what happens in the next budget season, though Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive, does support congestion pricing. However, if Republicans maintain the majority in the State Senate, they may put the brakes on the momentum toward implementation.</p> <p>Advocates are, at present, optimistic about the panel and prospects despite the initial hiccups.</p> <p>“It’s important there’s a panel in place that represents the interests of various government entities whose constituents are affected by our transportation crisis,” Matthiessen said. “As long as the Workgroup delivers the report by the December 31 deadline, the group’s work will be worthwhile.”</p> <p>And though the December 31 deadline may seem tight for such a complex assignment, the stakeholders are confident that it will get done.</p> <p>“It may be a broad topic,” Wylde said, “but it’s not a new topic.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/gov-cuomo-congepric.jpg" alt="gov cuomo congepric" width="600" /></p> <p>Cuomo in the midst of his ABNY presentation</p> <hr /> <p>One major issue that hung over the 2018 state budget season was congestion pricing, a plan to charge a fee to all motor vehicles entering parts of Manhattan and diverting the revenue toward funding the beleaguered subway system. Governor Andrew Cuomo directed a panel to study the issue, which determined that a congestion pricing scheme should be implemented and offered options for what it could look like, including a three-year, three-phase proposal. Activist groups applied significant public pressure on the governor and the Legislature. Newspaper opinion pages endorsed the idea.</p> <p>But in the end, only a small part of the plan came to fruition in the budget: a surcharge on for-hire vehicles, including traditional taxis and app-based rides, entering the Manhattan business district. New charges on other cars and trucks did not come to pass. Activists excoriated Cuomo, while the governor blamed the Legislature. Cuomo said that an important first step had been passed and that he would work on additional steps in the future. That process would be led by a budget-created advisory “workgroup” made up of appointees from various stakeholders, including the governor, legislative leaders, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>Since the March budget deal, the chorus calling for congestion pricing -- both to reduce street traffic in Manhattan and to secure a steady revenue stream to help support repair of the faltering subways -- has only grown, in number and volume.</p> <p>Now, supporters of congestion pricing, from activists to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and many others, want to ensure that it makes it into the next budget. They see a potentially more favorable environment, though a lot will be determined by the results of November’s elections, and by the pressure they put on those running.</p> <p>“It's my impression that pretty much everyone running for office right now at least in the city supports congestion pricing, so I think that puts us in a position to win this year,” said Rebecca Bailin, the political director of the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, referring to candidates for state Assembly and Senate.</p> <p>Riders Alliance is a part of a new coalition, announced earlier this month, consisting of a diverse group of advocacy organizations, including those focused on the environment, immigrants, social justice, low-income communities and communities of color, and others, organized to push congestion pricing over the finish line. Between now and budget season, the groups will engage in both public demonstrations and private meetings with legislators in an attempt to steer the Legislature and governor toward implementing a full congestion pricing plan.</p> <p>“We are all so reliant on our subways and buses,” Bailin said. “It is a social justice issue because it can either be a barrier or an entryway to economic opportunity, to cultural access in this city, to all the things that the city has to offer.”</p> <p>The results of the recent primary elections have renewed hope that 2019 could finally be the year.</p> <p>Discussion of congestion pricing and funding and fixing the MTA was a centerpiece of the Cuomo-Cynthia Nixon primary, with the governor regularly pointing to congestion pricing and the new Fast Forward plan put forth by MTA leadership to upgrade the transit system. Six of the eight members of the recently-defunct Independent Democratic Conference of the state Senate were defeated by insurgent Democrats who largely staked out more strongly supportive positions on congestion pricing than the incumbents.</p> <p>Some of those defeated, like Senators Jesse Hamilton and Jose Peralta, were supporters of the scheme and were replaced by other supporters; on the other hand, cautious supporter John Liu defeated a vocal opponent, Senator Tony Avella, who is continuing his run in the general election on the Independence and Women’s Equality lines. Even Republican Senator Martin Golden of Southern Brooklyn, a perennial foe of transit and street safety activists, calls himself a supporter of congestion pricing.</p> <p>"The Senate, whether controlled by the Democrats or the Republicans, is always a complicated picture,” said Alex Matthiessen, the founder of the Move NY campaign, whose comprehensive congestion pricing plan has served as a model for legislative proposals since 2015, in an email. “But the replacement of the IDC and many of its members with a crop of progressive, hungry and decidedly pro-congestion pricing senators-in-waiting portends well for this effort. But regardless of partisan control of the legislature there’s one constant: city transportation is a disaster and it’s on lawmakers to act.”</p> <p>Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the likely majority leader if the Democrats take the Senate, represents a suburban district and does not have a clear position on congestion pricing. A report by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign found that only <a href="http://www.tstc.org/reports/cpsheets/burbSenate_factsheet_district%2035.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">3.9 percent</a> of Stewart-Cousins’ constituents, those driving alone into Manhattan’s proposed congestion pricing zone, would be affected by the charge. Stewart-Cousins’ office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.</p> <p>In the Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx is a supporter of congestion pricing, though some advocates <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/03/14/while-cuomo-sits-on-the-sidelines-the-assemblys-joke-of-a-congestion-pricing-plan-fills-the-vacuum/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">criticized</a> him last year for not pushing hard enough for the proposal. Heastie’s office also did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who served as deputy minority leader prior to the reunification of the IDC and may return to a deputy leader role in January, was once a skeptic of congestion pricing, but is now a supporter. He also supports Mayor de Blasio’s millionaires’ tax proposal, which he says can help fill the gap left between what’s funded by congestion pricing and what a comprehensive transit fix will actually cost.</p> <p>“A Democratic Senate would certainly prioritize the stability and funding of the MTA, which the Republican Senate has not done,” Gianaris said in an interview. “So I think it’s a prerequisite to get to a realistic end to have a Democratic Senate. As for whether the Senate would embrace congestion pricing, beyond those of us that already do, I can’t speak for others. We’re gonna have to have those conversations. I don’t even know which senators I’m going to be looking at, because we’re hoping to pick up a lot more senators in a couple weeks.”</p> <p>Cuomo, too, has only attached himself more to congestion pricing. At an event hosted by the Association for a Better New York on October 4, Cuomo said that since neither God, the city, nor the state would cough up $33 billion needed for the Fast Forward plan, “the only realistic option is congestion pricing, we have to get it done, we have to get it done next year, I need your help.”</p> <p>For now, Cuomo has activists somewhat convinced.</p> <p>“I am optimistic based on what he said about the need to fund the MTA,” Bailin said of Cuomo’s ABNY remarks.</p> <p>Cuomo’s FixNYC panel recommended, in a January <a href="http://www.hntb.com/HNTB/media/HNTBMediaLibrary/Home/Fix-NYC-Panel-Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>, a broad but “phased” congestion pricing program. The for-hire vehicle surcharge, phase 2, passed, but other parts and phases of the plan did not, leaving many boosters disappointed, and some accusing Cuomo of a “<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7578-cuomo-accused-of-bait-and-switch-on-congestion-pricing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bait-and-switch</a>.”</p> <p>“The Governor single-handedly revived the idea of congestion pricing and succeeded in passing the first phase of the FixNYC plan including a fee on for-hire vehicles that will go into effect next year as well as empaneling a new MTA advisory group that will provide recommendations before end of year as we develop the executive budget proposal,” Cuomo spokesperson Peter Ajemian said in a statement. “The Governor has been clear congestion pricing is the most realistic way to help fund the NYCT modernization plan and will continue leading the charge to convince legislators to pass it next year.”</p> <p>The new advisory group is the MTA Sustainability Advisory Workgroup, which formally met for the first time last month and is tasked with coming up with a comprehensive plan for funding a major transit overhaul plan like Fast Forward by December 31. Though created in the enacted budget that passed in March, the panel’s members were not named until August, after <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/08/02/riders-alliance-cuomo-must-convene-congestion-pricing-workgroup-by-august-15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Riders Alliance</a> publicly called for the appointments. The group’s fairly tight timeline is compounded by the sheer immensity of the task before it.</p> <p>But, the workgroup represents a much broader array of perspectives than FixNYC, which was an entirely Cuomo-appointed panel. The panel consists of two Cuomo appointees: CEO of the Partnership for New York City Kathryn Wylde and Metro North Commuter Council member Rhonda Herman; two appointees of congestion pricing skeptic Mayor Bill de Blasio: former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Senator Gianaris; one appointee of MTA Chair Joe Lhota: Vice Chair Fernando Ferrer; two from the Senate: former City Council Member Andrew Eristoff and former DOT engineer Michael Shamma; and two from the Assembly: Assemblymembers Amy Paulin and Michael Benedetto.</p> <p>“It is a group of well-meaning individuals who are trying to make recommendations to solve the MTA’s funding crisis,” Gianaris said. “And the MTA crisis in general, regardless of funding. I think efficiency is one of the other things we’re going to be looking at as well.”</p> <p>Even de Blasio appears to be warming to the idea of congestion pricing, evidenced by his appointment of <a href="https://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20170907/POLITICS/170909915/mark-viverito-defies-de-blasio-backs-congestion-pricing-as-a-way-to-fund-subways" target="_blank" rel="noopener">two</a>&nbsp;supporters to the panel.</p> <p>The panel has met three times so far, and Wylde, the chair, says that the meetings will occur weekly or biweekly until the end of the year, when a set of recommendations must be produced. The initial focus has been determining what the funding needs of the MTA are and how congestion pricing could form part of a solution, but the panel is empowered to go well beyond that in its recommended solutions.</p> <p>“FixNYC was really focused on congestion pricing and how to implement it,” Gianaris said. “That is just one element of what this group is doing.”</p> <p>Wylde elaborated on that point.</p> <p>“It may be funding mechanisms, it may be reforms,” Wylde said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “Structural and other reforms in how the MTA raises its own revenues. And then all the issues associated with congestion pricing: 1) to build support, and 2) to achieve the dual goals of new revenue generation and traffic reduction. So those have been the focus of the conversation so far.”</p> <p>New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s much-talked about Fast Forward plan to modernize the subway system has been projected to cost roughly $40 billion over ten years, though Cuomo has used the $33 billion figure. Wylde said that unanimity on a true cost does not exist on the panel, and that part of the panel’s focus is in determining what it would be.</p> <p>Congestion pricing remains the crux of the negotiations, and its status as a major part of the long-term transit solution appears to be agreed upon. But most analysts agree that congestion pricing would not alone cover the massive cost of fixing the transit system, and that other mechanisms are necessary as well. Estimates for annual congestion pricing revenue vary, and depend on what the program actually looks like, but have been in the $1 billion range.</p> <p>The new advisory panel’s recommended solutions could, theoretically, include any of a variety of measures beyond congestion pricing -- including labor reforms, changes to the MTA’s budgeting process, an added surcharge to high-income earners’ taxes, fare hikes, or value capture -- to address long-term funding and spending issues.</p> <p>“We will be careful about mission creep,” Wylde said. “The primary goal here is to identify the gap and make specific recommendations on how to deal with it, and most specifically, it’s to try and resolve an approach to congestion pricing. And so, I think that’s the focus, and to the extent that the gap exceeds the revenues that one can project from congestion pricing, looking at other sources of funding or cost reduction.”</p> <p>The panel’s work will be informed by that of outside experts and advocates, and by previous plans such as FixNYC and Move NY, as well as by the expertise that the panel members themselves have from work on these issues. Political questions will come into consideration as well, especially considering the presence of three current and two former elected officials. The nature of the panel’s makeup -- that numerous stakeholders, rather than just one, appointed its members -- may allow for a broader consensus to be formed in such a way that is palatable to all parties.</p> <p>“To date, I don't think party politics are playing a role,” Wylde said. “Obviously, the political sensibilities of all members of the group play into what they think is realistic and what can be accomplished. So, it's a politically sophisticated group, but not one that's just gonna be at the mercy of party politics.”</p> <p>The November elections will, of course, hold significant influence over what happens in the next budget season, though Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive, does support congestion pricing. However, if Republicans maintain the majority in the State Senate, they may put the brakes on the momentum toward implementation.</p> <p>Advocates are, at present, optimistic about the panel and prospects despite the initial hiccups.</p> <p>“It’s important there’s a panel in place that represents the interests of various government entities whose constituents are affected by our transportation crisis,” Matthiessen said. “As long as the Workgroup delivers the report by the December 31 deadline, the group’s work will be worthwhile.”</p> <p>And though the December 31 deadline may seem tight for such a complex assignment, the stakeholders are confident that it will get done.</p> <p>“It may be a broad topic,” Wylde said, “but it’s not a new topic.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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To Save the MTA, Push ‘Fast Forward’ Ahead Quickly and Responsibly 2018-09-17T04:00:00+00:00 2018-09-17T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7938-to-save-the-mta-push-fast-forward-ahead-quickly-and-responsibly Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mta-subway-action.jpg" alt="mta subway action" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: MTA New York City Transit/Marc A. Hermann)</p> <hr /> <p>The fight to fix our ailing transit system took a significant step forward in May when New York City Transit President Andy Byford released his “Fast Forward” plan to dramatically accelerate comprehensive fixes to our city’s subways and buses. We, along with many other legislators and advocates, praised the plan and Byford’s work to create it. Fast Forward isn’t just a clear roadmap to a modern subway system; it’s also a very necessary roadmap to MTA reform.</p> <p>Now it’s time for the MTA to take the next step toward transparency as the governor and Legislature begin the difficult work of finding sources for the billions of dollars necessary to pay for Fast Forward -- as well as the authority’s expected capital needs. While Byford estimates the cost of Fast Forward to be $40 billion, it is essential that the MTA provide a budget detailing the plan’s costs as well as its 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment. If state government is to do its job, we need to know what fixing our subways and buses will really cost. Without a detailed budget, the necessary revenue that must be provided to save our transit system will be unlikely to materialize and millions of riders will suffer the consequences every day.</p> <p>The collapse of our subway and bus systems isn’t Byford’s fault. It is, in fact, ours. Decades of indifference, neglect, and underfunding from Albany has hamstrung our public transit and now threatens to irrevocably damage the fabric of our city. Make no mistake, without public transit; New York City ceases to be. So it is our duty to fix it.</p> <p>Historically, Albany’s inaction has stemmed in part from the lack of a clear vision of how to fix public transit. Now that we have that framework in place, the final step still remains. The MTA must show us exactly how it plans to implement the plan and how much it will cost.</p> <p>There have been many ideas for how to provide additional revenue to the MTA—congestion pricing, value capture, a millionaires’ tax, new corporate taxes—but not a single one of these proposals will ever gain enough support in the Legislature if lawmakers are in the dark as to the exact costs of the agency’s capital needs.</p> <p>Time is of the essence. The governor will deliver the next State of the State on January 9 and the next preliminary budget a week later. The MTA cannot wait until then to submit to the Legislature its capital needs and a budget for the Fast Forward proposal. The costs of Fast Forward need to be factored into the governor’s executive budget long before its release, and the scope and importance of the Fast Forward plan requires that the Legislature is given ample time to review and hold hearings on the authority’s proposed costs well before budget negotiations begin in January.</p> <p>Once the MTA shows us the numbers, then it becomes Albany’s task to make sure we raise the necessary revenues without unduly burdening already-frustrated straphangers. Unfortunately, Albany doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to securing real funds for the MTA. &nbsp;The authority’s current capital budget, the 2015-2019 Capital Program, was only approved in 2016—sixteen months late—and of the $32 billion that was approved, the source of most of the state’s $8.3 billion share has yet to be identified. This type of delay and the lack of a clear identified revenue source cannot happen if we expect the Fast Forward plan to be successful.</p> <p>Beyond submitting its Fast Forward and 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment budgets this fall, the MTA should submit future Capital Program budgets earlier, in order to demonstrate the need for dedicated, long-term revenue streams, the Capital Program should have a longer timeline than its current five years.</p> <p>This year Assemblymember Carroll drafted and passed in the Assembly a bill, A.11094, which would have required the MTA to submit its capital budgets earlier than currently mandated—but the bill never came to a vote in the Senate. To facilitate long-term planning, the MTA should share the full cost of the 15-year Fast Forward plan rather than breaking it up into the five-year chunks.</p> <p>The current system of temporary fixes is unsustainable and cannot continue. Without a budget and time for the Legislature to review it, the state will again fail to act on a concrete plan to finally fix and modernize our subway system. There might be some serious sticker shock in Albany, but it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get the job done. If we don’t, then Fast Forward will remain Byford’s dream, while millions of riders suffer the daily nightmare that our subways have become.</p> <p>***<br /> New York State Assemblymember Robert Carroll represents the 44th Assembly District which is comprised of the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Victorian Flatbush and Boro Park. Nick Sifuentes is the executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transportation advocacy organization. On Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/Bobby4Brooklyn" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Bobby4Brooklyn</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/Nick_Sifu" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Nick_Sifu</a> of <a href="https://twitter.com/Tri_State" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Tri_State</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mta-subway-action.jpg" alt="mta subway action" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: MTA New York City Transit/Marc A. Hermann)</p> <hr /> <p>The fight to fix our ailing transit system took a significant step forward in May when New York City Transit President Andy Byford released his “Fast Forward” plan to dramatically accelerate comprehensive fixes to our city’s subways and buses. We, along with many other legislators and advocates, praised the plan and Byford’s work to create it. Fast Forward isn’t just a clear roadmap to a modern subway system; it’s also a very necessary roadmap to MTA reform.</p> <p>Now it’s time for the MTA to take the next step toward transparency as the governor and Legislature begin the difficult work of finding sources for the billions of dollars necessary to pay for Fast Forward -- as well as the authority’s expected capital needs. While Byford estimates the cost of Fast Forward to be $40 billion, it is essential that the MTA provide a budget detailing the plan’s costs as well as its 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment. If state government is to do its job, we need to know what fixing our subways and buses will really cost. Without a detailed budget, the necessary revenue that must be provided to save our transit system will be unlikely to materialize and millions of riders will suffer the consequences every day.</p> <p>The collapse of our subway and bus systems isn’t Byford’s fault. It is, in fact, ours. Decades of indifference, neglect, and underfunding from Albany has hamstrung our public transit and now threatens to irrevocably damage the fabric of our city. Make no mistake, without public transit; New York City ceases to be. So it is our duty to fix it.</p> <p>Historically, Albany’s inaction has stemmed in part from the lack of a clear vision of how to fix public transit. Now that we have that framework in place, the final step still remains. The MTA must show us exactly how it plans to implement the plan and how much it will cost.</p> <p>There have been many ideas for how to provide additional revenue to the MTA—congestion pricing, value capture, a millionaires’ tax, new corporate taxes—but not a single one of these proposals will ever gain enough support in the Legislature if lawmakers are in the dark as to the exact costs of the agency’s capital needs.</p> <p>Time is of the essence. The governor will deliver the next State of the State on January 9 and the next preliminary budget a week later. The MTA cannot wait until then to submit to the Legislature its capital needs and a budget for the Fast Forward proposal. The costs of Fast Forward need to be factored into the governor’s executive budget long before its release, and the scope and importance of the Fast Forward plan requires that the Legislature is given ample time to review and hold hearings on the authority’s proposed costs well before budget negotiations begin in January.</p> <p>Once the MTA shows us the numbers, then it becomes Albany’s task to make sure we raise the necessary revenues without unduly burdening already-frustrated straphangers. Unfortunately, Albany doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to securing real funds for the MTA. &nbsp;The authority’s current capital budget, the 2015-2019 Capital Program, was only approved in 2016—sixteen months late—and of the $32 billion that was approved, the source of most of the state’s $8.3 billion share has yet to be identified. This type of delay and the lack of a clear identified revenue source cannot happen if we expect the Fast Forward plan to be successful.</p> <p>Beyond submitting its Fast Forward and 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment budgets this fall, the MTA should submit future Capital Program budgets earlier, in order to demonstrate the need for dedicated, long-term revenue streams, the Capital Program should have a longer timeline than its current five years.</p> <p>This year Assemblymember Carroll drafted and passed in the Assembly a bill, A.11094, which would have required the MTA to submit its capital budgets earlier than currently mandated—but the bill never came to a vote in the Senate. To facilitate long-term planning, the MTA should share the full cost of the 15-year Fast Forward plan rather than breaking it up into the five-year chunks.</p> <p>The current system of temporary fixes is unsustainable and cannot continue. Without a budget and time for the Legislature to review it, the state will again fail to act on a concrete plan to finally fix and modernize our subway system. There might be some serious sticker shock in Albany, but it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get the job done. If we don’t, then Fast Forward will remain Byford’s dream, while millions of riders suffer the daily nightmare that our subways have become.</p> <p>***<br /> New York State Assemblymember Robert Carroll represents the 44th Assembly District which is comprised of the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Victorian Flatbush and Boro Park. Nick Sifuentes is the executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transportation advocacy organization. On Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/Bobby4Brooklyn" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Bobby4Brooklyn</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/Nick_Sifu" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Nick_Sifu</a> of <a href="https://twitter.com/Tri_State" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Tri_State</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Promising Efficiency and Performance, Molinaro Releases MTA Turnaround Plan 2018-08-28T04:00:00+00:00 2018-08-28T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7893-promising-efficiency-and-performance-molinaro-release-mta-turnaround-plan Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/marc-molinaro-mta.jpg" alt="marc molinaro mta" width="600" /></p> <p>Marc Molinaro on the subway (photo: @marcmolinaro)</p> <hr /> <p>Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro said that his plan to fix the state’s ailing subway system is “not sexy,” but argued Tuesday that he will fix the MTA by doing away with what he said is Governor Andrew Cuomo’s approach, marked by uncontrolled spending, prioritizing “vanity projects” over key improvements and frequent fighting with Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>For Molinaro, the chief problem facing the subway system is not lack of funding, but out-of-control costs allowed by bad management. His <a href="https://molinaroforny.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Back-on-Track.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“Back on Track” plan</a>, released late Monday, diagnoses the problems and puts forward solutions, emphasizing reducing costs and putting an end to what the campaign says are inefficient work rules that slow repairs.</p> <p>“The MTA is falling victim to waste, fraud and abuse, and we as a state must confront the high cost of labor,” he said at a Tuesday news conference outside City Hall, citing among others the Manhattan Institute and the Regional Plan Association as sources for ideas in the 30-page plan, which also supports the recently-released <a href="https://fastforward.mta.info" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“Fast Forward” plan</a> put forth by New York City Transit Authority President Andy Byford. “If spending more money on the MTA was the answer, we'd have the best transit system in the world,” Molinaro said.</p> <p>To cut costs, Molinaro is proposing lengthening work windows, which would mean longer subway service closures, with the aim of allowing for more efficient, less costly repairs.</p> <p>And should Molinaro, a former New York Assembly member and currently the Dutchess county executive, be elected governor in November, the days of the state’s governor and its largest city’s mayor fighting over funding would be over, he said.</p> <p>“I'm not going to argue with the mayor of New York, because the state's responsible for the MTA,” said Molinaro, adding that he would work “hand-in-hand” with de Blasio to do what it takes to fix the subway.</p> <p>Asked by Gotham Gazette to break down how his plan would fill the over $30 billion in funding needs for subway system repairs, Molinaro declined to discuss specifics, instead pointing to the written plan. In it, Molinaro calls for using value capture — a mechanism that captures the increased tax revenue from rising property prices as a result of new government investment, such as a new nearby subway station.</p> <p>Molinaro’s plan vaguely suggests improving the state’s economic development programs to raise revenue with “pro-growth” initiatives. Underscoring his attention to driving down costs, one of the planks under “potential revenue streams” is cutting costs of what he labels Cuomo’s “vanity projects.” At the news conference, as in his plan, Molinaro said he supports congestion pricing, though “certain boroughs need consideration” on costs of driving into the city, he said. In the plan, Molinaro says that while a version of congestion pricing, which would add a fee to cars entering the core of Manhattan, is “part of the future of the MTA,” it would need to be coupled with “major reform efforts to decrease operations and construction costs.”</p> <p>Among those cost-cutting reforms are reining in health care costs, overtime pay and pensions for construction workers on MTA projects. On construction costs, Molinaro said he would welcome new technology and crack down on overstaffing on projects.</p> <p>While he focused his attention during the news conference on what he views as mismanagement of MTA-related matters by Cuomo, he also embraced the fundamentals of the city’s newly passed effort to give discounted Metrocards to low-income New Yorkers. Specifically, Molinaro proposed using state funds to expand the city’s new “Fair Fares” policy to make eligible for the program individuals who earn incomes of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The current policy will give half-price metrocards to the 800,000 New Yorkers below the federal poverty line — which is roughly $25,000 for a family of four.</p> <p>He also proposed assessing transit desserts and expanding subway lines to underserved areas, though he did not specify which areas are most in need of service.</p> <p>Molinaro on Tuesday took several shots at the governor, likening him to “some sort of deranged Wizard of Oz” due to what he said is the governor’s habit of misdirection from the core issues at hand facing the beleaguered subway system. The governor has continued to claim that the city is responsible for the MTA, even though he appoints most of the members on the MTA board — six of 14 — and its top leadership. And though the state typically contributes billions of dollars toward MTA capital plans, most of the funding that goes to the MTA comes from city residents who use its railways, subways and buses.</p> <p>Abbey Collins, a spokesperson for Cuomo’s campaign, in a statement called Molinaro’s campaign a “joke,” said he lacked credibility, and conflated Molinaro’s criticism of the governor’s MTA management with attacks on its employees. <br /> <br />“While Trump mini-me Molinaro has been busy copying and pasting the MTA’s own plan into his policy book, it is Governor Cuomo who has appointed world-class senior leadership, secured a dedicated revenue stream, enacted the first phase of congestion pricing and charged the MTA to undertake the Fast Forward plan,” she said. “It’s clear Molinaro has exactly zero ideas of his own and instead is resorting to Trumpian assaults on the hardworking men and women who make the subways run.”&nbsp;The president of the state AFL-CIO, which has endorsed Cuomo for re-election, sent out a statement also criticizing Molinaro for “vilify[ing] working people and their unions.”</p> <p>“He would rather blame workers for subway repair costs than recognize New York's highly trained and skilled workforce is the only thing that keeps our state moving forward,” said New York AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento of Molinaro.</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/marc-molinaro-mta.jpg" alt="marc molinaro mta" width="600" /></p> <p>Marc Molinaro on the subway (photo: @marcmolinaro)</p> <hr /> <p>Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro said that his plan to fix the state’s ailing subway system is “not sexy,” but argued Tuesday that he will fix the MTA by doing away with what he said is Governor Andrew Cuomo’s approach, marked by uncontrolled spending, prioritizing “vanity projects” over key improvements and frequent fighting with Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>For Molinaro, the chief problem facing the subway system is not lack of funding, but out-of-control costs allowed by bad management. His <a href="https://molinaroforny.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Back-on-Track.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“Back on Track” plan</a>, released late Monday, diagnoses the problems and puts forward solutions, emphasizing reducing costs and putting an end to what the campaign says are inefficient work rules that slow repairs.</p> <p>“The MTA is falling victim to waste, fraud and abuse, and we as a state must confront the high cost of labor,” he said at a Tuesday news conference outside City Hall, citing among others the Manhattan Institute and the Regional Plan Association as sources for ideas in the 30-page plan, which also supports the recently-released <a href="https://fastforward.mta.info" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“Fast Forward” plan</a> put forth by New York City Transit Authority President Andy Byford. “If spending more money on the MTA was the answer, we'd have the best transit system in the world,” Molinaro said.</p> <p>To cut costs, Molinaro is proposing lengthening work windows, which would mean longer subway service closures, with the aim of allowing for more efficient, less costly repairs.</p> <p>And should Molinaro, a former New York Assembly member and currently the Dutchess county executive, be elected governor in November, the days of the state’s governor and its largest city’s mayor fighting over funding would be over, he said.</p> <p>“I'm not going to argue with the mayor of New York, because the state's responsible for the MTA,” said Molinaro, adding that he would work “hand-in-hand” with de Blasio to do what it takes to fix the subway.</p> <p>Asked by Gotham Gazette to break down how his plan would fill the over $30 billion in funding needs for subway system repairs, Molinaro declined to discuss specifics, instead pointing to the written plan. In it, Molinaro calls for using value capture — a mechanism that captures the increased tax revenue from rising property prices as a result of new government investment, such as a new nearby subway station.</p> <p>Molinaro’s plan vaguely suggests improving the state’s economic development programs to raise revenue with “pro-growth” initiatives. Underscoring his attention to driving down costs, one of the planks under “potential revenue streams” is cutting costs of what he labels Cuomo’s “vanity projects.” At the news conference, as in his plan, Molinaro said he supports congestion pricing, though “certain boroughs need consideration” on costs of driving into the city, he said. In the plan, Molinaro says that while a version of congestion pricing, which would add a fee to cars entering the core of Manhattan, is “part of the future of the MTA,” it would need to be coupled with “major reform efforts to decrease operations and construction costs.”</p> <p>Among those cost-cutting reforms are reining in health care costs, overtime pay and pensions for construction workers on MTA projects. On construction costs, Molinaro said he would welcome new technology and crack down on overstaffing on projects.</p> <p>While he focused his attention during the news conference on what he views as mismanagement of MTA-related matters by Cuomo, he also embraced the fundamentals of the city’s newly passed effort to give discounted Metrocards to low-income New Yorkers. Specifically, Molinaro proposed using state funds to expand the city’s new “Fair Fares” policy to make eligible for the program individuals who earn incomes of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The current policy will give half-price metrocards to the 800,000 New Yorkers below the federal poverty line — which is roughly $25,000 for a family of four.</p> <p>He also proposed assessing transit desserts and expanding subway lines to underserved areas, though he did not specify which areas are most in need of service.</p> <p>Molinaro on Tuesday took several shots at the governor, likening him to “some sort of deranged Wizard of Oz” due to what he said is the governor’s habit of misdirection from the core issues at hand facing the beleaguered subway system. The governor has continued to claim that the city is responsible for the MTA, even though he appoints most of the members on the MTA board — six of 14 — and its top leadership. And though the state typically contributes billions of dollars toward MTA capital plans, most of the funding that goes to the MTA comes from city residents who use its railways, subways and buses.</p> <p>Abbey Collins, a spokesperson for Cuomo’s campaign, in a statement called Molinaro’s campaign a “joke,” said he lacked credibility, and conflated Molinaro’s criticism of the governor’s MTA management with attacks on its employees. <br /> <br />“While Trump mini-me Molinaro has been busy copying and pasting the MTA’s own plan into his policy book, it is Governor Cuomo who has appointed world-class senior leadership, secured a dedicated revenue stream, enacted the first phase of congestion pricing and charged the MTA to undertake the Fast Forward plan,” she said. “It’s clear Molinaro has exactly zero ideas of his own and instead is resorting to Trumpian assaults on the hardworking men and women who make the subways run.”&nbsp;The president of the state AFL-CIO, which has endorsed Cuomo for re-election, sent out a statement also criticizing Molinaro for “vilify[ing] working people and their unions.”</p> <p>“He would rather blame workers for subway repair costs than recognize New York's highly trained and skilled workforce is the only thing that keeps our state moving forward,” said New York AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento of Molinaro.</p> <p> </p> What's The [Data] Point? $17 billion, the MTA's Preliminary 2019 Budget 2018-08-07T04:00:00+00:00 2018-08-07T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7844-what-s-the-data-point-17-billion-the-mta-s-preliminary-2019-budget Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What's The [Data] Point? Episode 49</strong><strong> -- $17 billion with Jamison Dague of CBC on the MTA's preliminary budget for 2019 [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</strong></p> <!--<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/wtdp-w-cbrecher-120.jpg" alt="wtdp w cbrecher 120" width="440" height="120" style="display: block; margin: 10px auto;" /></p>--> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/jamison-dague1.jpg" alt="jamison dague1" width="193" height="193" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>The MTA recently released its preliminary budget plan for 2019 (the MTA has a fiscal year that is the calendar year), with continued growth, up to $17 billion, and a variety of other noteworthy aspects. Jamison Dague, CBC's resident MTA and infrastructure expert, joined the podcast to break it all down and connect this budget plan to the larger operations of the MTA, the upcoming MTA capital budget that must be negotiated, the new transit president's plans to rescue the subways and buses, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>), Maria Doulis of CBC (<a href="https://twitter.com/MariaDoulis" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MariaDoulis</a>). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/482352408&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What's The [Data] Point? Episode 49</strong><strong> -- $17 billion with Jamison Dague of CBC on the MTA's preliminary budget for 2019 [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</strong></p> <!--<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/wtdp-w-cbrecher-120.jpg" alt="wtdp w cbrecher 120" width="440" height="120" style="display: block; margin: 10px auto;" /></p>--> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/jamison-dague1.jpg" alt="jamison dague1" width="193" height="193" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>The MTA recently released its preliminary budget plan for 2019 (the MTA has a fiscal year that is the calendar year), with continued growth, up to $17 billion, and a variety of other noteworthy aspects. Jamison Dague, CBC's resident MTA and infrastructure expert, joined the podcast to break it all down and connect this budget plan to the larger operations of the MTA, the upcoming MTA capital budget that must be negotiated, the new transit president's plans to rescue the subways and buses, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>), Maria Doulis of CBC (<a href="https://twitter.com/MariaDoulis" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MariaDoulis</a>). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/482352408&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Cuomo Faces Another Decision on MTA Funding ‘Lockbox’ 2018-07-10T04:00:00+00:00 2018-07-10T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7794-cuomo-faced-with-another-decision-on-mta-funding-lockbox Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govancuomo-mta-transit.jpg" alt="govancuomo mta transit" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo at an MTA-related event (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A bill to create a “transit lockbox” passed both houses of the state Legislature at the end of the session last month, setting up a showdown between the Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has presided over hundreds of millions of dollars in diverted MTA funds and has been hesitant to lose flexibility to use money allocated to MTA operations and improvements for other purposes, such as debt service. Cuomo vetoed an identical bill in 2013.</p> <p>The legislation would fully prohibit the executive branch from diverting any funds dedicated to public transit, whether operational or capital. If any funds were to be diverted with approval of the Legislature, such as through the budget process or other legislative means, the governor’s administration would be required to provide a full accounting of the diversion to the Legislature, such as its impact on fares, capital needs, or maintenance.</p> <p>Cuomo, who has taken heat for numerous “<a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/infrastructure/tracking-andrew-cuomo-funding-and-raiding-of-the-mta.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">transit raids</a>” throughout his tenure, vetoed a lockbox bill five years ago, but faces new pressure amid an ongoing crisis in the New York City subway system, which has seen deteriorated service and reliability and is in need of major repairs and upgrades. The bill passed both the Republican-led state Senate and Democrat-controlled Assembly without any dissenting votes. Its sponsors are counting on that increased pressure forcing Cuomo’s hand.</p> <p>“Money meant for transit should be spent on transit. And if it doesn’t get spent on transit, then transit users deserve to know exactly why their money is being diverted and how it will impact their fares and their quality of service,” said Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Bronx Democrat and the Assembly’s main sponsor of the bill, in an emailed statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>In the Senate, the main sponsor was Senator Marty Golden, a Brooklyn Republican. In a statement about passage of the bill, Golden referred to the diversions as “shortsighted measures,” and said that the bill “ensures that we have the funding needed to bring the MTA transportation system up to speed.”</p> <p>Estimates for the total dollar amount of diverted funds during Cuomo’s tenure reach the hundreds of millions. Mayor Bill de Blasio frequently accuses the governor of having raided the MTA’s budget of $456 million. The mayor’s office <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/524-17/the-money-the-mta-s-subway-crisis-plan-in-governor-cuomo-s-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">elaborated in July of last year</a>, noting $391.5 million in diversions from the operating budget to the state’s general fund, and $65 million in “reduction[s] in state reimbursements to the MTA in 2017.”</p> <p>During this year’s state budget negotiations, de Blasio repeatedly argued that the $456 million should be returned to the MTA by the state in order to cover the half of the $836 million emergency Subway Action Plan that Cuomo and his appointed MTA board chair, Joe Lhota, were asking the mayor to allocate in city funds. Cuomo refused, and, working with the Legislature, forced the city to pay using a state budget mechanism. With little recourse left, the city acquiesced, <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/03/31/de-blasio-agrees-to-pony-up-418m-for-cuomos-subway-rescue-plan/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">apparently content</a> with the plan’s lockbox provisions. Three years ago, the city pledged $2.5 billion in city funds to seal a hole in the MTA’s five-year Capital Plan, in exchange for a promise from the state not to divert the funds. The state also promised additional funding, more than $8 billion, to that plan, which runs through 2019, though, as usual, the MTA has not drawn down very much of the allocated capital plan money as of yet.</p> <p>The governor disputes the mayor’s numbers on diverted funds, and has noted in the past that the state contributes more to the MTA than the city, which is true but for the fact that much of the state money originates with city taxpayers and commuters. The MTA has countered the mayor’s allegations by noting that “diversion” is a misnomer, given that substantial portions of the moved funds go toward paying down the MTA’s debt, rather than being used to fund completely unrelated projects. The MTA has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7607-after-forcing-city-to-fund-subway-plan-cuomo-forecasts-next-mta-budget-battle" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said</a> that $235 million of the $456 million diversion went toward debt service, with another $169 million diverted to “direct capital aid,” $30 million for operating aid, and $22 million saved.</p> <p>In <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/budget/pdf/MTA-2018-AdoptedBudgetFebruaryFinancialPlan_2018-21.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Fiscal Year 2018</a>, the MTA’s debt service payments reached $2.5 billion, a total of 16 percent of the Authority’s total operating budget. Ten years ago, in <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/budget/pdf/MTA-2018-AdoptedBudgetFebruaryFinancialPlan_2018-21.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Fiscal Year 2008</a>, the MTA’s debt service payments totaled $997 million. Increased debt service has coincided with growing debt, which has reached $38 billion this year; with the most recent capital plan boost in 2017, the debt is expected to reach <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/mta-braces-5b-debt-load-fund-cuomo-championed-repairs-article-1.3197949" target="_blank" rel="noopener">$43 billion</a> by 2024.</p> <p>The “lockbox” is seen as a transparency and accountability measure, and the governor has in the past made his contempt for reporting on the diversions apparent. The governor vetoed the 2013 bill because of its lack of any “emergency” diversion powers, according to his veto statement, but critics charged that requirement of a “diversion impact statement” whenever money was to be diverted from the MTA played a part in his decision. An earlier bill that passed both houses and was signed by the governor in 2011 had been stripped of that requirement and added a provision allowing the governor to divert funds in “emergencies,” which was removed in the 2013 bill.</p> <p>In his 2013 <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2013/11/in-one-week-cuomo-vetoes-two-mta-transparency-bills-000000" target="_blank" rel="noopener">veto statement</a>, the governor said that the bill would “repudiate” the 2011 compromise, despite his insistence that he had “never declared a fiscal emergency and directed such transfers.” In the end, he called the bill “unnecessary.”</p> <p>The veto was harshly criticized by both <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2013/11/14/who-me-cuomo-vetoes-bill-to-protect-transit-funds-he-denies-raiding/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">transit advocates</a> and <a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2013/11/response-to-governor-cuomos-veto-of-the-statewide-transit-lockbox-transparency-bill/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">good government groups</a> alike. In Cuomo’s next executive budget, he proposed that $40 million be diverted from the MTA operating budget to finance debt service; the end result was $30 million to service debt. The governor wields enormous power in the state budget process.</p> <p>This year’s bill again requires that any diversion of funds be accompanied by a diversion impact statement. The governor would have to publicly account for the full dollar amount of a diversion, which funds (operational, capital, or otherwise) will be depleted, the total amount of diverted funds over the preceding five years, and a “detailed estimate of the impact of diversion from dedicated mass transit funds will have on the level of public transportation system service, maintenance, security, and the current capital program.”</p> <p>In fact, the <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A08511&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new bill</a> is identical to the <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=S03837&amp;term=2013&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">old bill</a> that Cuomo vetoed five years ago. But MTA-related pressure on Cuomo this time is greater than last time, with the governor <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-state/release-detail?ReleaseID=2520" target="_blank" rel="noopener">earning low marks in polls</a> for his handling of the MTA during his tenure and election year critics, including his opponents from the left and the right, making MTA management a key campaign issue.</p> <p>Advocates want to see the bill signed, among other actions they are pushing Cuomo and state lawmakers to take to drastically improve the transit system. “With NYCT President Andy Byford's Fast Forward plan to modernize the subway on the table, Governor Cuomo and the state legislature must raise the billions of dollars that will be required to make the plan a reality and spend them as intended,” said John Raskin, executive director of Riders Alliance, in a press release upon the bill’s passage.</p> <p>Dinowitz concurred, noting that the urgency of the measure has been amplified by the subway crisis being acute in a manner not seen five years ago.</p> <p>“Service quality on our subways and buses has deteriorated, especially in recent years,” Dinowitz told Gotham Gazette in an emailed statement. “As we look at the significant price tag of the MTA’s Fast Forward plan as well as transit needs in the rest of New York State, we must ensure that our public transportation systems actually receive the funding that they are allocated.”</p> <p>The subway’s demise, and what to do about it, has become a major issue in this year’s gubernatorial election. Cuomo has said he supports the long-term plan put forth by Byford, a relatively recent MTA hire brought in to save the subways and improve bus service, but the governor has said how to pay for it is still the big question. The <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/head-nyc-transit-andy-byford-planning-aggressive-37b-subway-article-1.4004246" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Daily News</a> reported in May that the subway overhaul plan drawn up by Byford would cost $37 billion over ten years.</p> <p>Cuomo has promised to continue to push for a congestion pricing plan during the next session in Albany. The second-term Democrat must first be reelected this fall. <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-andrew-cuomo-cynthia-nixon-mta-subway-20180703-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Cynthia Nixon</a>, his challenger in the Democratic primary, has also backed Byford’s plan, and <a href="https://cynthiafornewyork.com/issue/fixing-the-subways/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">says</a> she would pay for it through congestion pricing, a new millionaires tax, and a carbon tax. Along with congestion pricing, Cuomo has indicated he will expect New York City to kick in more for the MTA -- a new five-year MTA capital plan will soon be negotiated. Cuomo has not expressed support for a carbon tax or an added millionaires tax, Mayor de Blasio’s favored potential funding stream.</p> <p>The governor’s office did not give any indication of support or opposition to the lockbox bill when asked by Gotham Gazette. “This appears to be one of 557 bills that passed both houses in the last few weeks of session and will be reviewed by Counsel’s office,” said Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govancuomo-mta-transit.jpg" alt="govancuomo mta transit" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo at an MTA-related event (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A bill to create a “transit lockbox” passed both houses of the state Legislature at the end of the session last month, setting up a showdown between the Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has presided over hundreds of millions of dollars in diverted MTA funds and has been hesitant to lose flexibility to use money allocated to MTA operations and improvements for other purposes, such as debt service. Cuomo vetoed an identical bill in 2013.</p> <p>The legislation would fully prohibit the executive branch from diverting any funds dedicated to public transit, whether operational or capital. If any funds were to be diverted with approval of the Legislature, such as through the budget process or other legislative means, the governor’s administration would be required to provide a full accounting of the diversion to the Legislature, such as its impact on fares, capital needs, or maintenance.</p> <p>Cuomo, who has taken heat for numerous “<a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/infrastructure/tracking-andrew-cuomo-funding-and-raiding-of-the-mta.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">transit raids</a>” throughout his tenure, vetoed a lockbox bill five years ago, but faces new pressure amid an ongoing crisis in the New York City subway system, which has seen deteriorated service and reliability and is in need of major repairs and upgrades. The bill passed both the Republican-led state Senate and Democrat-controlled Assembly without any dissenting votes. Its sponsors are counting on that increased pressure forcing Cuomo’s hand.</p> <p>“Money meant for transit should be spent on transit. And if it doesn’t get spent on transit, then transit users deserve to know exactly why their money is being diverted and how it will impact their fares and their quality of service,” said Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Bronx Democrat and the Assembly’s main sponsor of the bill, in an emailed statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>In the Senate, the main sponsor was Senator Marty Golden, a Brooklyn Republican. In a statement about passage of the bill, Golden referred to the diversions as “shortsighted measures,” and said that the bill “ensures that we have the funding needed to bring the MTA transportation system up to speed.”</p> <p>Estimates for the total dollar amount of diverted funds during Cuomo’s tenure reach the hundreds of millions. Mayor Bill de Blasio frequently accuses the governor of having raided the MTA’s budget of $456 million. The mayor’s office <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/524-17/the-money-the-mta-s-subway-crisis-plan-in-governor-cuomo-s-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">elaborated in July of last year</a>, noting $391.5 million in diversions from the operating budget to the state’s general fund, and $65 million in “reduction[s] in state reimbursements to the MTA in 2017.”</p> <p>During this year’s state budget negotiations, de Blasio repeatedly argued that the $456 million should be returned to the MTA by the state in order to cover the half of the $836 million emergency Subway Action Plan that Cuomo and his appointed MTA board chair, Joe Lhota, were asking the mayor to allocate in city funds. Cuomo refused, and, working with the Legislature, forced the city to pay using a state budget mechanism. With little recourse left, the city acquiesced, <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/03/31/de-blasio-agrees-to-pony-up-418m-for-cuomos-subway-rescue-plan/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">apparently content</a> with the plan’s lockbox provisions. Three years ago, the city pledged $2.5 billion in city funds to seal a hole in the MTA’s five-year Capital Plan, in exchange for a promise from the state not to divert the funds. The state also promised additional funding, more than $8 billion, to that plan, which runs through 2019, though, as usual, the MTA has not drawn down very much of the allocated capital plan money as of yet.</p> <p>The governor disputes the mayor’s numbers on diverted funds, and has noted in the past that the state contributes more to the MTA than the city, which is true but for the fact that much of the state money originates with city taxpayers and commuters. The MTA has countered the mayor’s allegations by noting that “diversion” is a misnomer, given that substantial portions of the moved funds go toward paying down the MTA’s debt, rather than being used to fund completely unrelated projects. The MTA has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7607-after-forcing-city-to-fund-subway-plan-cuomo-forecasts-next-mta-budget-battle" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said</a> that $235 million of the $456 million diversion went toward debt service, with another $169 million diverted to “direct capital aid,” $30 million for operating aid, and $22 million saved.</p> <p>In <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/budget/pdf/MTA-2018-AdoptedBudgetFebruaryFinancialPlan_2018-21.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Fiscal Year 2018</a>, the MTA’s debt service payments reached $2.5 billion, a total of 16 percent of the Authority’s total operating budget. Ten years ago, in <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/budget/pdf/MTA-2018-AdoptedBudgetFebruaryFinancialPlan_2018-21.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Fiscal Year 2008</a>, the MTA’s debt service payments totaled $997 million. Increased debt service has coincided with growing debt, which has reached $38 billion this year; with the most recent capital plan boost in 2017, the debt is expected to reach <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/mta-braces-5b-debt-load-fund-cuomo-championed-repairs-article-1.3197949" target="_blank" rel="noopener">$43 billion</a> by 2024.</p> <p>The “lockbox” is seen as a transparency and accountability measure, and the governor has in the past made his contempt for reporting on the diversions apparent. The governor vetoed the 2013 bill because of its lack of any “emergency” diversion powers, according to his veto statement, but critics charged that requirement of a “diversion impact statement” whenever money was to be diverted from the MTA played a part in his decision. An earlier bill that passed both houses and was signed by the governor in 2011 had been stripped of that requirement and added a provision allowing the governor to divert funds in “emergencies,” which was removed in the 2013 bill.</p> <p>In his 2013 <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2013/11/in-one-week-cuomo-vetoes-two-mta-transparency-bills-000000" target="_blank" rel="noopener">veto statement</a>, the governor said that the bill would “repudiate” the 2011 compromise, despite his insistence that he had “never declared a fiscal emergency and directed such transfers.” In the end, he called the bill “unnecessary.”</p> <p>The veto was harshly criticized by both <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2013/11/14/who-me-cuomo-vetoes-bill-to-protect-transit-funds-he-denies-raiding/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">transit advocates</a> and <a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2013/11/response-to-governor-cuomos-veto-of-the-statewide-transit-lockbox-transparency-bill/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">good government groups</a> alike. In Cuomo’s next executive budget, he proposed that $40 million be diverted from the MTA operating budget to finance debt service; the end result was $30 million to service debt. The governor wields enormous power in the state budget process.</p> <p>This year’s bill again requires that any diversion of funds be accompanied by a diversion impact statement. The governor would have to publicly account for the full dollar amount of a diversion, which funds (operational, capital, or otherwise) will be depleted, the total amount of diverted funds over the preceding five years, and a “detailed estimate of the impact of diversion from dedicated mass transit funds will have on the level of public transportation system service, maintenance, security, and the current capital program.”</p> <p>In fact, the <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A08511&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new bill</a> is identical to the <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=S03837&amp;term=2013&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">old bill</a> that Cuomo vetoed five years ago. But MTA-related pressure on Cuomo this time is greater than last time, with the governor <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-state/release-detail?ReleaseID=2520" target="_blank" rel="noopener">earning low marks in polls</a> for his handling of the MTA during his tenure and election year critics, including his opponents from the left and the right, making MTA management a key campaign issue.</p> <p>Advocates want to see the bill signed, among other actions they are pushing Cuomo and state lawmakers to take to drastically improve the transit system. “With NYCT President Andy Byford's Fast Forward plan to modernize the subway on the table, Governor Cuomo and the state legislature must raise the billions of dollars that will be required to make the plan a reality and spend them as intended,” said John Raskin, executive director of Riders Alliance, in a press release upon the bill’s passage.</p> <p>Dinowitz concurred, noting that the urgency of the measure has been amplified by the subway crisis being acute in a manner not seen five years ago.</p> <p>“Service quality on our subways and buses has deteriorated, especially in recent years,” Dinowitz told Gotham Gazette in an emailed statement. “As we look at the significant price tag of the MTA’s Fast Forward plan as well as transit needs in the rest of New York State, we must ensure that our public transportation systems actually receive the funding that they are allocated.”</p> <p>The subway’s demise, and what to do about it, has become a major issue in this year’s gubernatorial election. Cuomo has said he supports the long-term plan put forth by Byford, a relatively recent MTA hire brought in to save the subways and improve bus service, but the governor has said how to pay for it is still the big question. The <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/head-nyc-transit-andy-byford-planning-aggressive-37b-subway-article-1.4004246" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Daily News</a> reported in May that the subway overhaul plan drawn up by Byford would cost $37 billion over ten years.</p> <p>Cuomo has promised to continue to push for a congestion pricing plan during the next session in Albany. The second-term Democrat must first be reelected this fall. <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-andrew-cuomo-cynthia-nixon-mta-subway-20180703-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Cynthia Nixon</a>, his challenger in the Democratic primary, has also backed Byford’s plan, and <a href="https://cynthiafornewyork.com/issue/fixing-the-subways/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">says</a> she would pay for it through congestion pricing, a new millionaires tax, and a carbon tax. Along with congestion pricing, Cuomo has indicated he will expect New York City to kick in more for the MTA -- a new five-year MTA capital plan will soon be negotiated. Cuomo has not expressed support for a carbon tax or an added millionaires tax, Mayor de Blasio’s favored potential funding stream.</p> <p>The governor’s office did not give any indication of support or opposition to the lockbox bill when asked by Gotham Gazette. “This appears to be one of 557 bills that passed both houses in the last few weeks of session and will be reviewed by Counsel’s office,” said Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: A New Era at the MTA? 2018-06-20T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-20T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7751-max-murphy-podcast-a-new-era-at-the-mta Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>June 20, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: A New Era at the MTA? with Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Instituteand and columnist at the <em>New York Post.</em><br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/gelinas-130.jpg" alt="Nicole Gelinas" width="130" height="193" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>Are we in a new era at the MTA? With Joe Lhota one year on the job as chair and a new transit chief, Andy Byford, in place and out with a plan to modernize the signals, where do things stand? Has the Subway Action Plan had any effect? What needs to be done to really improve the subways and buses, and get New York City moving again? Nicole Gelinas is an expert on the MTA and other transit and infrastructure matters, and she joined the podcast just after checking out the June MTA board meeting to answer these questions and others.</p> <p>Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax,</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>, and <a href="http://www.twitter.com/NicoleGelinas" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NicoleGelinas</a>. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/461102493&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>June 20, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: A New Era at the MTA? with Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Instituteand and columnist at the <em>New York Post.</em><br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/gelinas-130.jpg" alt="Nicole Gelinas" width="130" height="193" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>Are we in a new era at the MTA? With Joe Lhota one year on the job as chair and a new transit chief, Andy Byford, in place and out with a plan to modernize the signals, where do things stand? Has the Subway Action Plan had any effect? What needs to be done to really improve the subways and buses, and get New York City moving again? Nicole Gelinas is an expert on the MTA and other transit and infrastructure matters, and she joined the podcast just after checking out the June MTA board meeting to answer these questions and others.</p> <p>Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax,</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>, and <a href="http://www.twitter.com/NicoleGelinas" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NicoleGelinas</a>. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/461102493&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
On Taxes, the MTA and More, Molinaro Discusses Developing Campaign Platform 2018-06-14T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7740-on-taxes-the-mta-and-more-molinaro-discusses-developing-campaign-platform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/molinaro_launch.jpg" alt="marc molinaro launch" width="600" height="403" /></p> <p>Marc Molinaro (photo: Ben Max/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Ask Marc Molinaro about nearly anything, and the Republican nominee for governor will likely bring the conversation back to property taxes and affordability.</p> <p>“My focus, ultimately, will be to drive down costs on middle class New Yorkers,” he said in a Wednesday interview with Gotham Gazette. “That focus, again, has to be on property taxes because New York, unlike every other state in America, forces more of its state spending on property taxpayers. Property taxpayers -- small tax base; large, acute burden on individuals with no respect to their ability to pay.”</p> <p>Molinaro, currently Dutchess county executive, has repeatedly sounded the theme since <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7583-max-murphy-podcast-molinaro-launches-campaign-for-governor" target="_blank" rel="noopener">formally launching</a> his bid for governor April 2. While he has largely spoken in sweeping generalities -- promising “bold” proposals to come during his nomination acceptance speech at the May 23 state GOP convention -- details are starting to emerge.</p> <p>Molinaro said that in addition to making the state’s 2-percent cap on annual property tax increases permanent, he would seek to phase out the so-called “millionaires tax” if elected. The income tax rate for the top bracket -- which includes individuals making $1 million or more and couples earning $2 million or more per year -- went from 6.85 to 8.82 percent in 2009, and has been extended by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and a Legislature where each house is controlled by one of the two major parties.</p> <p>“I would seek to have it expire over time,” Molinaro said of the millionaires tax. “I do think that there’s a way to make taxation in the state a bit more respectful of those who can’t afford it.”</p> <p>He said he will release a detailed tax plan in the coming months. While Molinaro, like many other New York Republicans, has opposed the new, GOP-led federal tax overhaul because of its cap on local deductions, he has said New York must now work even harder to bring down the tax burden on its residents. He has also stressed that the state must reduce its burdens on localities -- often in the form of unfunded mandates -- so that counties, cities, towns, and villages can lower their taxes.</p> <p>Molinaro, 42, has spent his entire career in politics, including terms as a member of the state Assembly and as mayor of Tivoli, where he became the youngest mayor in the country at age 19. He’s claiming the mantle of a regular New Yorker who gets the working and middle classes, comparing himself favorably to Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon, each of whom has much more wealth and fame. Molinaro’s tendency to talk at length about poor and struggling families in personal terms occasionally makes him sound more like a progressive Democrat than a fiscally conservative Republican.</p> <p>“As a kid, I grew up on food stamps. I’m very sensitive to how the state treats those who are on the lower end of the income scale, living maybe in poverty or subsidized housing,” he said. During his nomination acceptance speech he raised his voice in declaring the he would “not concede compassion to anyone.”</p> <p>He has made the state’s struggling dairy industry something of a focus. <a href="https://patch.com/new-york/midhudsonvalley/dutchess-co-protects-farms-through-manageable-growth-partnership" target="_blank" rel="noopener">He allocated</a> $651,781 of Dutchess County’s 2017 budget to protecting two farms there. He has been <a href="http://www.suncommunitynews.com/articles/the-sun/molinaro-seeking-cuomo%E2%80%99s-job-steps-out-in-north-country-debu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">photographed</a> hanging out in stables and often tweets about dairy. “Dairy day. I love dairy day. I miss dairy day. I should come back to Albany for dairy day,” <a href="https://twitter.com/marcmolinaro/status/1004418463803363328" target="_blank" rel="noopener">he posted</a> on Twitter earlier this month, in lighthearted fashion, while he has <a href="https://twitter.com/marcmolinaro/status/965233189038981121" target="_blank" rel="noopener">also tweeted</a> about serious policy to help dairy farmers survive, such as through reducing regulations and taxes.</p> <p>On the state’s minimum wage law, Molinaro voiced opposition to the recent increases. In 2016, Cuomo and state legislators reached a deal raising New York City’s minimum wage to $15 by the end of this year, with slower hikes in other parts of the state.</p> <p>The Republican candidate, who also has the Conservative and Reform Party nominations, said he opposed the deal at the time and thinks the minimum wage “should be indexed to ebb and flow with the cost of living.”</p> <p>“I also don’t necessarily agree that an unelected board of individuals should be able to establish statewide policy,” he added, in reference to the wage board that Cuomo had empaneled to help him craft the policy before he pushed it through the legislative process. “Those are decisions that ought to be made by citizens and their representatives.”</p> <p>Asked whether he thought the state’s minimum wage should be lowered given broad economic growth, Molinaro replied with a laugh, “I’m not going to go there.”</p> <p>The MTA is another area where Molinaro said he will roll out detailed proposals.</p> <p>He said his priorities would be “depoliticizing” the authority’s board by giving members the power to fire the chair, currently Joe Lhota, along with conducting a thorough review of the MTA’s assets and creating a “road map” to improve service.</p> <p>“Like Joe Lhota or not, the governor has too much influence,” Molinaro said, nodding to the fact that the governor nominates the MTA board chair, as Cuomo did with Lhota. “Far too many decisions are made without input from the MTA board…I would absolutely want to empower the MTA board to be able to fire the head of the MTA.”</p> <p>Molinaro’s county includes the far reaches of the MTA transit system, and he is one of the executives empowered to jointly appoint an MTA board member. He often says that Dutchess is where “upstate meets downstate” and has joined the chorus of candidates and others criticizing Cuomo’s management of the MTA, especially the New York City subway system.</p> <p>Molinaro did not comment, when asked, on MTA NYC Transit President Andy Byford’s new plan to fix service. He mostly spoke in broad terms about the MTA’s problems -- decrying its “ineffectiveness and erosion” -- but singled out service for people with disabilities as a priority.</p> <p>“The fact is that if you are living with a disability or particular challenges -- special needs -- we don’t have adequate access, and that needs to be a priority regardless of where you live,” Molinaro said.</p> <p>That belief connects to an initiative Molinaro launched in Dutchess -- which he made a point to again emphasize during the interview -- to improve services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program, called ThinkDIFFERENTLY, has featured events connecting people with disabilities with service providers and aims to help them develop job and life skills.</p> <p>Molinaro said the program -- which has caught on in dozens of other localities -- would provide a paradigm for how he approaches disabilities as governor. Molinaro, whose daughter is autistic, often cites his experience as a father when discussing the issue.</p> <p>“Whether it’s making the investments necessary to break down physical barriers -- making subway stops and platforms accessible -- or it’s saying to job creators, you need to do more to encourage employment for those living with disabilities or welcome those with special needs as consumers,” he said, “we need to educate and then we need to ensure that the system is easier to navigate.”</p> <p>As might be expected for a relatively unknown Republican challenging a two-term Democratic governor in New York, Molinaro has trailed Cuomo in early polls. A <a href="https://www2.siena.edu/news-events/article/cuomo-leads-molinaro-by-19-points-among-likely-voters" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Siena College poll</a> released Wednesday, about five-and-a-half months before Election Day, showed Cuomo ahead of Molinaro 56-37, though the numbers showed an improving trend for Molinaro in the hypothetical matchup and the poll was celebrated by his campaign, which noted he is in better position than Republican challenger Rob Astorino was four years ago at the same time.</p> <p>Like Democratic primary challenger Nixon, who also trails Cuomo in the polls, Molinaro has tried to put a dent in the governor’s numbers by tying him to corruption. Both challengers have pointed to the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recent conviction</a> of longtime Cuomo lieutenant Joseph Percoco and the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7558-post-percoco-conviction-kaloyeros-trial-likely-to-further-stain-cuomo-administration" target="_blank" rel="noopener">upcoming federal trial</a> of Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute who oversaw some of Cuomo’s most ambitious development projects.</p> <p>Those cases center upon proven and alleged abuses within the governor’s multimillion-dollar economic development programs, and the Percoco trial showed the former Cuomo government aide and campaign manager regularly using his executive chamber office while on leave to run the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign. Molinaro has put forth a variety of government ethics and campaign finance reform proposals thus far, some of which Cuomo has professed support for but not passed. The GOP nominee has said he would seek pay-for-play, or doing-business, campaign finance restrictions on entities seeking or holding state contracts, term limits for statewide elected officials and state legislators, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7611-molinaro-outlines-initial-ethics-and-campaign-finance-reform-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">and other changes to make government more honest and open</a>.</p> <p>Molinaro said the trials not only show issues of corruption under Cuomo’s nose, but that the governor’s approach to economic development is fundamentally flawed.</p> <p>“I don’t believe the government should take taxpayer money and give it to private interests,” he said. “I don’t believe in cutting checks as if New Yorkers are [Cuomo’s] personal ATM. It’s not fair, it’s not appropriate and he doesn’t seem to know the difference between right and wrong.”</p> <p>Asked how he would encourage statewide economic growth if he ended Cuomo’s development programs, Molinaro again pointed to tax cuts and lowering the cost of living.</p> <p>“Drive down costs, make it easier for businesses to thrive,” he said. “That’s how you grow an environment that people can achieve greater success -- not by pickpocketing New Yorkers and giving it to political contributors.” Molinaro did not offer specifics.</p> <p>He said that if elected, he would take a selective approach to Cuomo’s legacy, though he shied away from detailing what he would seek to undo. “My perspective is everything gets evaluated -- everything,” he said.</p> <p>Molinaro did not answer a question about Cuomo’s gun control measures, including an expanded ban of assault weapons, known as the SAFE Act. While the governor has frequently touted the legislation as one of his main achievements, and New York City residents largely support it, it is considered highly unpopular upstate.</p> <p>In a January interview, more than a month before the school massacre in Parkland, Florida and the movement it spurred, Molinaro <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7581-in-run-for-governor-marc-molinaro-will-make-a-character-argument" target="_blank" rel="noopener">had told Gotham Gazette</a>, “Frankly, I do have concerns with how aggressive this governor has been. I think in some ways irresponsibly ignoring those that do support, as I do, the Second Amendment and forcing legislation without having the kind of local robust conversation necessary. I believe the constitution is as it’s written.”</p> <p>The Cuomo campaign has seized on some of Molinaro’s more conservative positions, like on gun rights and his 2011 vote against marriage equality as a member of the Assembly, the passage of which is a top Cuomo resume item. Molinaro has said he has evolved on the issue. The governor’s campaign has branded him a Trump mini-me, though Molinaro has said he did not vote for the Republican president in the 2016 election.</p> <p>In the Wednesday interview with Gotham Gazette, Molinaro did not list any other issue areas where he plans to roll out policy plans, though during his convention speech he appeared to promise a series.</p> <p>Asked how, if elected governor, he would work with the state Legislature -- this fall, Democrats are likely to maintain their Assembly majority and Republicans are fighting against losing the Senate -- Molinaro said he would try to make the lawmaking process more inclusive.</p> <p>He promised to end Albany’s “three men in a room” culture in which the governor and legislative leaders decide the budget and other important issues behind closed doors.</p> <p>“I think the government can reach into the legislature and local communities to identify great thinkers, people who are engaged in trying to solve problems irrespective of party, and engage them,” Molinaro said. “That breaks down the power structure that has paralyzed state government.”</p> <p>

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/molinaro_launch.jpg" alt="marc molinaro launch" width="600" height="403" /></p> <p>Marc Molinaro (photo: Ben Max/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Ask Marc Molinaro about nearly anything, and the Republican nominee for governor will likely bring the conversation back to property taxes and affordability.</p> <p>“My focus, ultimately, will be to drive down costs on middle class New Yorkers,” he said in a Wednesday interview with Gotham Gazette. “That focus, again, has to be on property taxes because New York, unlike every other state in America, forces more of its state spending on property taxpayers. Property taxpayers -- small tax base; large, acute burden on individuals with no respect to their ability to pay.”</p> <p>Molinaro, currently Dutchess county executive, has repeatedly sounded the theme since <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7583-max-murphy-podcast-molinaro-launches-campaign-for-governor" target="_blank" rel="noopener">formally launching</a> his bid for governor April 2. While he has largely spoken in sweeping generalities -- promising “bold” proposals to come during his nomination acceptance speech at the May 23 state GOP convention -- details are starting to emerge.</p> <p>Molinaro said that in addition to making the state’s 2-percent cap on annual property tax increases permanent, he would seek to phase out the so-called “millionaires tax” if elected. The income tax rate for the top bracket -- which includes individuals making $1 million or more and couples earning $2 million or more per year -- went from 6.85 to 8.82 percent in 2009, and has been extended by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and a Legislature where each house is controlled by one of the two major parties.</p> <p>“I would seek to have it expire over time,” Molinaro said of the millionaires tax. “I do think that there’s a way to make taxation in the state a bit more respectful of those who can’t afford it.”</p> <p>He said he will release a detailed tax plan in the coming months. While Molinaro, like many other New York Republicans, has opposed the new, GOP-led federal tax overhaul because of its cap on local deductions, he has said New York must now work even harder to bring down the tax burden on its residents. He has also stressed that the state must reduce its burdens on localities -- often in the form of unfunded mandates -- so that counties, cities, towns, and villages can lower their taxes.</p> <p>Molinaro, 42, has spent his entire career in politics, including terms as a member of the state Assembly and as mayor of Tivoli, where he became the youngest mayor in the country at age 19. He’s claiming the mantle of a regular New Yorker who gets the working and middle classes, comparing himself favorably to Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon, each of whom has much more wealth and fame. Molinaro’s tendency to talk at length about poor and struggling families in personal terms occasionally makes him sound more like a progressive Democrat than a fiscally conservative Republican.</p> <p>“As a kid, I grew up on food stamps. I’m very sensitive to how the state treats those who are on the lower end of the income scale, living maybe in poverty or subsidized housing,” he said. During his nomination acceptance speech he raised his voice in declaring the he would “not concede compassion to anyone.”</p> <p>He has made the state’s struggling dairy industry something of a focus. <a href="https://patch.com/new-york/midhudsonvalley/dutchess-co-protects-farms-through-manageable-growth-partnership" target="_blank" rel="noopener">He allocated</a> $651,781 of Dutchess County’s 2017 budget to protecting two farms there. He has been <a href="http://www.suncommunitynews.com/articles/the-sun/molinaro-seeking-cuomo%E2%80%99s-job-steps-out-in-north-country-debu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">photographed</a> hanging out in stables and often tweets about dairy. “Dairy day. I love dairy day. I miss dairy day. I should come back to Albany for dairy day,” <a href="https://twitter.com/marcmolinaro/status/1004418463803363328" target="_blank" rel="noopener">he posted</a> on Twitter earlier this month, in lighthearted fashion, while he has <a href="https://twitter.com/marcmolinaro/status/965233189038981121" target="_blank" rel="noopener">also tweeted</a> about serious policy to help dairy farmers survive, such as through reducing regulations and taxes.</p> <p>On the state’s minimum wage law, Molinaro voiced opposition to the recent increases. In 2016, Cuomo and state legislators reached a deal raising New York City’s minimum wage to $15 by the end of this year, with slower hikes in other parts of the state.</p> <p>The Republican candidate, who also has the Conservative and Reform Party nominations, said he opposed the deal at the time and thinks the minimum wage “should be indexed to ebb and flow with the cost of living.”</p> <p>“I also don’t necessarily agree that an unelected board of individuals should be able to establish statewide policy,” he added, in reference to the wage board that Cuomo had empaneled to help him craft the policy before he pushed it through the legislative process. “Those are decisions that ought to be made by citizens and their representatives.”</p> <p>Asked whether he thought the state’s minimum wage should be lowered given broad economic growth, Molinaro replied with a laugh, “I’m not going to go there.”</p> <p>The MTA is another area where Molinaro said he will roll out detailed proposals.</p> <p>He said his priorities would be “depoliticizing” the authority’s board by giving members the power to fire the chair, currently Joe Lhota, along with conducting a thorough review of the MTA’s assets and creating a “road map” to improve service.</p> <p>“Like Joe Lhota or not, the governor has too much influence,” Molinaro said, nodding to the fact that the governor nominates the MTA board chair, as Cuomo did with Lhota. “Far too many decisions are made without input from the MTA board…I would absolutely want to empower the MTA board to be able to fire the head of the MTA.”</p> <p>Molinaro’s county includes the far reaches of the MTA transit system, and he is one of the executives empowered to jointly appoint an MTA board member. He often says that Dutchess is where “upstate meets downstate” and has joined the chorus of candidates and others criticizing Cuomo’s management of the MTA, especially the New York City subway system.</p> <p>Molinaro did not comment, when asked, on MTA NYC Transit President Andy Byford’s new plan to fix service. He mostly spoke in broad terms about the MTA’s problems -- decrying its “ineffectiveness and erosion” -- but singled out service for people with disabilities as a priority.</p> <p>“The fact is that if you are living with a disability or particular challenges -- special needs -- we don’t have adequate access, and that needs to be a priority regardless of where you live,” Molinaro said.</p> <p>That belief connects to an initiative Molinaro launched in Dutchess -- which he made a point to again emphasize during the interview -- to improve services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program, called ThinkDIFFERENTLY, has featured events connecting people with disabilities with service providers and aims to help them develop job and life skills.</p> <p>Molinaro said the program -- which has caught on in dozens of other localities -- would provide a paradigm for how he approaches disabilities as governor. Molinaro, whose daughter is autistic, often cites his experience as a father when discussing the issue.</p> <p>“Whether it’s making the investments necessary to break down physical barriers -- making subway stops and platforms accessible -- or it’s saying to job creators, you need to do more to encourage employment for those living with disabilities or welcome those with special needs as consumers,” he said, “we need to educate and then we need to ensure that the system is easier to navigate.”</p> <p>As might be expected for a relatively unknown Republican challenging a two-term Democratic governor in New York, Molinaro has trailed Cuomo in early polls. A <a href="https://www2.siena.edu/news-events/article/cuomo-leads-molinaro-by-19-points-among-likely-voters" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Siena College poll</a> released Wednesday, about five-and-a-half months before Election Day, showed Cuomo ahead of Molinaro 56-37, though the numbers showed an improving trend for Molinaro in the hypothetical matchup and the poll was celebrated by his campaign, which noted he is in better position than Republican challenger Rob Astorino was four years ago at the same time.</p> <p>Like Democratic primary challenger Nixon, who also trails Cuomo in the polls, Molinaro has tried to put a dent in the governor’s numbers by tying him to corruption. Both challengers have pointed to the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recent conviction</a> of longtime Cuomo lieutenant Joseph Percoco and the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7558-post-percoco-conviction-kaloyeros-trial-likely-to-further-stain-cuomo-administration" target="_blank" rel="noopener">upcoming federal trial</a> of Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute who oversaw some of Cuomo’s most ambitious development projects.</p> <p>Those cases center upon proven and alleged abuses within the governor’s multimillion-dollar economic development programs, and the Percoco trial showed the former Cuomo government aide and campaign manager regularly using his executive chamber office while on leave to run the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign. Molinaro has put forth a variety of government ethics and campaign finance reform proposals thus far, some of which Cuomo has professed support for but not passed. The GOP nominee has said he would seek pay-for-play, or doing-business, campaign finance restrictions on entities seeking or holding state contracts, term limits for statewide elected officials and state legislators, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7611-molinaro-outlines-initial-ethics-and-campaign-finance-reform-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">and other changes to make government more honest and open</a>.</p> <p>Molinaro said the trials not only show issues of corruption under Cuomo’s nose, but that the governor’s approach to economic development is fundamentally flawed.</p> <p>“I don’t believe the government should take taxpayer money and give it to private interests,” he said. “I don’t believe in cutting checks as if New Yorkers are [Cuomo’s] personal ATM. It’s not fair, it’s not appropriate and he doesn’t seem to know the difference between right and wrong.”</p> <p>Asked how he would encourage statewide economic growth if he ended Cuomo’s development programs, Molinaro again pointed to tax cuts and lowering the cost of living.</p> <p>“Drive down costs, make it easier for businesses to thrive,” he said. “That’s how you grow an environment that people can achieve greater success -- not by pickpocketing New Yorkers and giving it to political contributors.” Molinaro did not offer specifics.</p> <p>He said that if elected, he would take a selective approach to Cuomo’s legacy, though he shied away from detailing what he would seek to undo. “My perspective is everything gets evaluated -- everything,” he said.</p> <p>Molinaro did not answer a question about Cuomo’s gun control measures, including an expanded ban of assault weapons, known as the SAFE Act. While the governor has frequently touted the legislation as one of his main achievements, and New York City residents largely support it, it is considered highly unpopular upstate.</p> <p>In a January interview, more than a month before the school massacre in Parkland, Florida and the movement it spurred, Molinaro <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7581-in-run-for-governor-marc-molinaro-will-make-a-character-argument" target="_blank" rel="noopener">had told Gotham Gazette</a>, “Frankly, I do have concerns with how aggressive this governor has been. I think in some ways irresponsibly ignoring those that do support, as I do, the Second Amendment and forcing legislation without having the kind of local robust conversation necessary. I believe the constitution is as it’s written.”</p> <p>The Cuomo campaign has seized on some of Molinaro’s more conservative positions, like on gun rights and his 2011 vote against marriage equality as a member of the Assembly, the passage of which is a top Cuomo resume item. Molinaro has said he has evolved on the issue. The governor’s campaign has branded him a Trump mini-me, though Molinaro has said he did not vote for the Republican president in the 2016 election.</p> <p>In the Wednesday interview with Gotham Gazette, Molinaro did not list any other issue areas where he plans to roll out policy plans, though during his convention speech he appeared to promise a series.</p> <p>Asked how, if elected governor, he would work with the state Legislature -- this fall, Democrats are likely to maintain their Assembly majority and Republicans are fighting against losing the Senate -- Molinaro said he would try to make the lawmaking process more inclusive.</p> <p>He promised to end Albany’s “three men in a room” culture in which the governor and legislative leaders decide the budget and other important issues behind closed doors.</p> <p>“I think the government can reach into the legislature and local communities to identify great thinkers, people who are engaged in trying to solve problems irrespective of party, and engage them,” Molinaro said. “That breaks down the power structure that has paralyzed state government.”</p> <p>

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

</p>
The Byford Plan and the MTA Information Deficit 2018-06-05T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-05T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7713-the-byford-plan-and-the-mta-information-deficit Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/m-train-mta.jpg" alt="m train mta" width="600" height="421" /></p> <p>Andy Byford (photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City Transit’s new president, Andy Byford, recently presented a major plan to fix the subways, called “Fast Forward,” which involves a massive sustained investment in upgrading and modernizing the subway system, combined with a spending speed-up by closing more subway lines on nights and weekends to get the work done more rapidly. Other major priorities are also in the plan, like improved bus speeds, providing access for disabled people at more stations, strengthening construction management, and improving relationships with employees.</p> <p>The keystone, however, is implementing a modern, computer-based train control system to improve the frequency and reliability of the subway trains with billions of dollars in investments in advanced signal systems. The ambitious goal -- a vastly improved transit system -- is what the riders and the people and businesses of the city and the metropolitan area want and need.</p> <p>The MTA did not publish official figures on the costs, causing the press to seek unofficial figures, which were reported anywhere from $17 to $19 to $37 billion for different time frames. The MTA claims it is costing things out. The public is also being subjected to ongoing political theater as public figures use each other as punching bags about the MTA, with Cuomo versus de Blasio and Cuomo versus Nixon as the main events.</p> <p>While the MTA has given the public a stated goal of a better system and a bare outline of a plan to get there, it has left the public in the lurch in relation to other key information beyond cost. This includes information to see how the plan matches up with the rest of the system’s needs that have to be paid for, everything from the expansion projects like East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway, to basics like replacing track and the legacy signal system that must be done continuously, to buying new subway cars and buses, to keeping the suburban rail lines running.</p> <p>Additionally, assuming the MTA has to borrow a lot more money, the public deserves to know how much new revenue will be needed to cover a lot more debt, and when. There is also precious little on exactly how the MTA might gain control of the unending cost overruns on the multi-billion dollar expansion projects. Let’s put the punching bags in the corner and start looking at what kind of information deficit the MTA has provided the public.</p> <p>Still in construction are actually two capital plans. An April 2018 report to the MTA Board Capital Program Oversight Committee shows that the 2010-14 Capital Plan is still not finished -- more than $5 billion of the $32 billion plan, which included Federal Hurricane Sandy recovery funds, has yet to be received. The current $33 billion 2015-2019 plan has only received $3.5 billion and is still 90% incomplete!</p> <p>The report also says in 2018 the MTA plans to commit $7 billion to capital construction -- a pace that would result in most of the current plan rolling over unfinished into 2020 and beyond. The New York City government had actually given more funds to the two plans than the State government -- $879 million versus $465 million, by March of this year. The 2015-2019 Plan is running five years behind schedule, and the MTA is going to exhaust its available resources far short of completion. When this is going to happen is one of the main information deficits.</p> <p>The current plan has at least one dry hole: a $7 billion IOU from the State written in law that gets provided when the MTA exhausts its current resources, or by 2025. The MTA needs an extra $600 million a year in a new revenue to pay debt service on what I estimate to be $7 billion in bonds to fill that hole.</p> <p>The agency has a second dry hole: it projected a $600 million deficit by 2021 in February (even after two fare hikes), which resulted in Standard &amp; Poor downgrading the agency’s bond rating. Agency officials also told a senior state legislator before the state budget adoption that the MTA could not afford the $11 billion commitment to the capital plan that is supposed to be funded by the MTA itself. These two problems will likely come together around 2021 but the MTA is now not giving a date to the public for when new revenue sources will be needed.</p> <p>These shortfalls don’t include the new Byford plan.</p> <p>Information deficit one, therefore, is how much money the MTA really needs in new revenue to pay for the current plan, before you even put the Byford “Fast Forward” plan on top of it. The answer is probably more than $1 billion a year before Byford. Information deficit two is how much money the Byford plan will cost on top of the current capital plan and its successor (the 2020-2024 plan), and how much new revenue will be needed for that.</p> <p>The Byford plan has two five-year phases to get the new signal system constructed. If these investments and the money needed start moving soon, the first phase would overlap with the completion of the 2015-2019 capital plan, out to 2025. The second phase would overlap with the 2020-24 plan still in development by the MTA, with negotiations over funding between the State and the City to come. That 2020-2024 capital plan is scheduled to be provided to the MTA Capital Program Review Board (CPRB) in the fall of 2019. The current 2015-19 plan can be amended at any time with approval by the CPRB.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo reaffirmed his support for congestion pricing shortly after the Byford plan was released; Mayor de Blasio did the same for the added millionaires tax he’s long-pursued, and Cynthia Nixon endorsed both plus a pollution tax as well. In truth the sum of revenue from a congestion pricing plan and added millionaires tax are probably both needed to get to 2025, complete the current capital plan, and overlay it with phase one of “Fast Forward.” New sources of revenue will also be needed for phase two of “Fast Forward” &nbsp;plus the regular needs of the system, but those requirements are seven years off or more, so while long-term funding streams are needed, we don’t need to give everybody headaches about those numbers right now.</p> <p>The Legislature created a Metropolitan Transportation Sustainability Advisory Workgroup in the budget, consisting of a group of appointees by the Governor, the Mayor, the Assembly, and the Senate, to report back to the Legislature at the end of 2018 on the host of complex issues associated with mass transit. Reporting was also required on the MTA’s Subway Action Plan, which the State forced the City to pay half of after Mayor de Blasio refused.</p> <p>The Legislature should follow this up before the session concludes with a requirement that the MTA submit its 2020-24 plan earlier than fall 2019, to address the information deficit. The requirement should include an integration with the Byford plan and details of how costs can be controlled and contained in the capital construction budgets.</p> <p>The MTA needs to cost out the ambitious goals and let the public know how much money is needed soon -- the political theater probably won’t stop for a long time but it would help if we could all work with the right numbers.</p> <p>***<br /> Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter<a href="https://twitter.com/JimBrennanNY"> @JimBrennanNY</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/m-train-mta.jpg" alt="m train mta" width="600" height="421" /></p> <p>Andy Byford (photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City Transit’s new president, Andy Byford, recently presented a major plan to fix the subways, called “Fast Forward,” which involves a massive sustained investment in upgrading and modernizing the subway system, combined with a spending speed-up by closing more subway lines on nights and weekends to get the work done more rapidly. Other major priorities are also in the plan, like improved bus speeds, providing access for disabled people at more stations, strengthening construction management, and improving relationships with employees.</p> <p>The keystone, however, is implementing a modern, computer-based train control system to improve the frequency and reliability of the subway trains with billions of dollars in investments in advanced signal systems. The ambitious goal -- a vastly improved transit system -- is what the riders and the people and businesses of the city and the metropolitan area want and need.</p> <p>The MTA did not publish official figures on the costs, causing the press to seek unofficial figures, which were reported anywhere from $17 to $19 to $37 billion for different time frames. The MTA claims it is costing things out. The public is also being subjected to ongoing political theater as public figures use each other as punching bags about the MTA, with Cuomo versus de Blasio and Cuomo versus Nixon as the main events.</p> <p>While the MTA has given the public a stated goal of a better system and a bare outline of a plan to get there, it has left the public in the lurch in relation to other key information beyond cost. This includes information to see how the plan matches up with the rest of the system’s needs that have to be paid for, everything from the expansion projects like East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway, to basics like replacing track and the legacy signal system that must be done continuously, to buying new subway cars and buses, to keeping the suburban rail lines running.</p> <p>Additionally, assuming the MTA has to borrow a lot more money, the public deserves to know how much new revenue will be needed to cover a lot more debt, and when. There is also precious little on exactly how the MTA might gain control of the unending cost overruns on the multi-billion dollar expansion projects. Let’s put the punching bags in the corner and start looking at what kind of information deficit the MTA has provided the public.</p> <p>Still in construction are actually two capital plans. An April 2018 report to the MTA Board Capital Program Oversight Committee shows that the 2010-14 Capital Plan is still not finished -- more than $5 billion of the $32 billion plan, which included Federal Hurricane Sandy recovery funds, has yet to be received. The current $33 billion 2015-2019 plan has only received $3.5 billion and is still 90% incomplete!</p> <p>The report also says in 2018 the MTA plans to commit $7 billion to capital construction -- a pace that would result in most of the current plan rolling over unfinished into 2020 and beyond. The New York City government had actually given more funds to the two plans than the State government -- $879 million versus $465 million, by March of this year. The 2015-2019 Plan is running five years behind schedule, and the MTA is going to exhaust its available resources far short of completion. When this is going to happen is one of the main information deficits.</p> <p>The current plan has at least one dry hole: a $7 billion IOU from the State written in law that gets provided when the MTA exhausts its current resources, or by 2025. The MTA needs an extra $600 million a year in a new revenue to pay debt service on what I estimate to be $7 billion in bonds to fill that hole.</p> <p>The agency has a second dry hole: it projected a $600 million deficit by 2021 in February (even after two fare hikes), which resulted in Standard &amp; Poor downgrading the agency’s bond rating. Agency officials also told a senior state legislator before the state budget adoption that the MTA could not afford the $11 billion commitment to the capital plan that is supposed to be funded by the MTA itself. These two problems will likely come together around 2021 but the MTA is now not giving a date to the public for when new revenue sources will be needed.</p> <p>These shortfalls don’t include the new Byford plan.</p> <p>Information deficit one, therefore, is how much money the MTA really needs in new revenue to pay for the current plan, before you even put the Byford “Fast Forward” plan on top of it. The answer is probably more than $1 billion a year before Byford. Information deficit two is how much money the Byford plan will cost on top of the current capital plan and its successor (the 2020-2024 plan), and how much new revenue will be needed for that.</p> <p>The Byford plan has two five-year phases to get the new signal system constructed. If these investments and the money needed start moving soon, the first phase would overlap with the completion of the 2015-2019 capital plan, out to 2025. The second phase would overlap with the 2020-24 plan still in development by the MTA, with negotiations over funding between the State and the City to come. That 2020-2024 capital plan is scheduled to be provided to the MTA Capital Program Review Board (CPRB) in the fall of 2019. The current 2015-19 plan can be amended at any time with approval by the CPRB.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo reaffirmed his support for congestion pricing shortly after the Byford plan was released; Mayor de Blasio did the same for the added millionaires tax he’s long-pursued, and Cynthia Nixon endorsed both plus a pollution tax as well. In truth the sum of revenue from a congestion pricing plan and added millionaires tax are probably both needed to get to 2025, complete the current capital plan, and overlay it with phase one of “Fast Forward.” New sources of revenue will also be needed for phase two of “Fast Forward” &nbsp;plus the regular needs of the system, but those requirements are seven years off or more, so while long-term funding streams are needed, we don’t need to give everybody headaches about those numbers right now.</p> <p>The Legislature created a Metropolitan Transportation Sustainability Advisory Workgroup in the budget, consisting of a group of appointees by the Governor, the Mayor, the Assembly, and the Senate, to report back to the Legislature at the end of 2018 on the host of complex issues associated with mass transit. Reporting was also required on the MTA’s Subway Action Plan, which the State forced the City to pay half of after Mayor de Blasio refused.</p> <p>The Legislature should follow this up before the session concludes with a requirement that the MTA submit its 2020-24 plan earlier than fall 2019, to address the information deficit. The requirement should include an integration with the Byford plan and details of how costs can be controlled and contained in the capital construction budgets.</p> <p>The MTA needs to cost out the ambitious goals and let the public know how much money is needed soon -- the political theater probably won’t stop for a long time but it would help if we could all work with the right numbers.</p> <p>***<br /> Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter<a href="https://twitter.com/JimBrennanNY"> @JimBrennanNY</a>.</p> <p>

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State Budget Does Help Mass Transit, But MTA Capital Plan Uncertainty Rising 2018-04-26T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7642-state-budget-did-help-mass-transit-but-mta-capital-plan-uncertainty-rising Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/41277901271_bfa156547c_z.jpg" alt="subway train repairs" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The MTA received two significant infusions of new money in the state budget effective April 1. The first is the full $836 million, to be provided to the MTA by December 31, to fund phase one of the Subway Action Plan developed last July by Chair Joseph Lhota and MTA management. The second is through a new tax, starting January 1, on for-hire vehicle trips by taxis, Ubers, Lyfts, and others for trips in Manhattan south of 96th street. The tax revenue will put an estimated $400 million a year into the MTA budget to provide regular, ongoing support for the increases in maintenance related to the Subway Action Plan.</p> <p>The new money is very welcome for the beleaguered transit system, but major policy and funding questions like the MTA’s long-term capital construction program and whether a congestion pricing program will become integral to future sources of funds remain unanswered.</p> <p>The $836 million to be delivered in 2018 is a combination of about $500 million in operating funds to cover the expense of several thousand new maintenance positions in subway car overhauls, replacing track and signals, deploying emergency personnel, and other staffing, with the rest investments in related physical assets. Half the money for the 2018 infusion was initially put into the proposed executive budget submitted by Governor Cuomo to the Legislature from state funds.&nbsp;The State Legislature agreed to that and also to compel the City of New York to come up with the other half of the funds, $418 million, despite Mayor de Blasio’s objections to the city being required to provide the money when proposed last year after Governor Cuomo declared a transit emergency. The ongoing deterioration of subway service that led to the emergency declaration impelled the Legislature to agree that both the State and the City must provide additional support to the MTA.</p> <p>Two other proposals in the budget by the governor to force New York City to pay even more money to the MTA were rejected by the Legislature, with the Assembly specifically denying the approvals in both its one-house budget and later in its summary of the enacted budget. These proposals were viewed as far more onerous than the Subway Action Plan mandate. One required the city to pay the full cost of the New York City Transit Capital Plan, which is supposed to be $17 billion over the five years of the current 2015-19 MTA plan. Right now the city’s scheduled contribution is $2.5 billion.</p> <p>The second proposal would give the MTA the authority to determine how much property tax revenue in New York City it could take from “value capture.” This budget bill would allow the MTA to decide how much property tax value is added due to transit improvements it makes in certain zones around the city, and then direct the incremental property tax revenue to itself without the city having a right to approve it, or even have a say in how much money is involved. The Citizens Budget Commission called this proposal “confiscatory.“ Although rejected, versions of these proposals are likely to resurface in the future as the Cuomo administration tries to find ways to shift financial responsibility from the state to the city to fund the MTA.</p> <p>The State Assembly deserves thanks from the public for the $400 million for-hire vehicle trip surcharge for mass transit. Governor Cuomo never put legislation to create a congestion pricing plan into his proposed budget, despite endorsing the concept last summer and creating the Fix NYC Advisory Panel, which offered a congestion pricing framework in a report that was released at the time of the budget. However, in early March the State Assembly, in its one-house budget, proposed the surcharge to fund the recurring maintenance program. A similar surcharge had been a lesser part of the Fix NYC report, which called for a three-year, three-phase program, the main element of which is a charge to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street for most vehicles, designed to yield up to $1 billion a year. But Governor Cuomo put none of it into his budget plan.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo had the good sense to rapidly endorse the Assembly’s trip surcharge, and it was approved by the Senate after the tax was limited solely to Manhattan, with no new charges in the outer boroughs or the suburbs. But there is no other element of a congestion pricing set-up. There is no funding for any infrastructure to electronically record entries into the Manhattan business district, which is phase two of the Fix NYC plan. Existing technology in the taxi and for-hire vehicle industry will pinpoint when those vehicles traverse Manhattan south of 96th Street.</p> <p>Congestion pricing remains in limbo, even as the MTA’s long-term capital construction budget may unravel. In March of this year Standard &amp; Poor downgraded the MTA’s bond rating one notch after an MTA report showed the agency would have a $400 million operating deficit in 2020 and a $600 million operating deficit by 2021, even after two fare and toll hikes. The primary cause of the deficit was reported to be a drop in real estate transaction revenues like the mortgage recording tax, which in part are dedicated to mass transit.</p> <p>The $32 billion 2015-19 MTA Capital Plan, to which the MTA is now committing significant funds as it finally wraps up the prior plan, includes $11 billion from the MTA itself, primarily from money it will borrow. The forecasted deficits, however, are very likely to constrain the ability of the agency to actually borrow that much money. Not only that, but state government’s share of the 2015-19 Capital Plan, $8.5 billion, included $7 billion for which there was only an I.O.U. with no stream of revenue to back it up. Shortfalls in the 2015-19 Plan could materialize soon, just as discussions about the next five-year capital plan are moving forward.</p> <p>The MTA has to propose its 2020-2024 Capital Plan in October 2019. The recent five-year plans have cost about $30 billion each - but if the current plan begins to unravel the 2020 plan will be in trouble. A fall 2017 State Comptroller report expressed concern that the 2020 plan might have shortfalls (meaning lack of sources of funding to pay for projects) similar to the $15 billion shortfalls that plagued decision-makers for both the 2010 and 2015 plans before funding schemes were patched together.</p> <p>The public and the State Legislature need critical information from the MTA very soon to determine the agency’s ability to sustain a meaningful capital program. In 2007 the Legislature made the MTA accelerate submission of its capital plan at that time, earlier than the law had provided, and it could do so again, scheduling a submission for early 2019, rather than the end of the year, to get a better handle on what the problems really are.</p> <p>Congestion pricing involves rational policy proposals to deter vehicles from entering Manhattan to reduce pollution and congestion, and provide a long-term funding stream for the MTA. But this is the second time in ten years a push for congestion pricing has not been successful in the State Legislature. If congestion pricing won’t fly there is no shortage of possibilities for taxes to fund the mass transit system. There are payroll taxes, personal income taxes, corporate income taxes, sales taxes, millionaires’ taxes, mansion taxes, you name it. The issue is the political will. A consensus on funding this most vital of services remains frustratingly elusive, along with the leadership to forge that consensus.</p> <p>***<br />Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JimBrennanNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JimBrennanNY</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/41277901271_bfa156547c_z.jpg" alt="subway train repairs" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The MTA received two significant infusions of new money in the state budget effective April 1. The first is the full $836 million, to be provided to the MTA by December 31, to fund phase one of the Subway Action Plan developed last July by Chair Joseph Lhota and MTA management. The second is through a new tax, starting January 1, on for-hire vehicle trips by taxis, Ubers, Lyfts, and others for trips in Manhattan south of 96th street. The tax revenue will put an estimated $400 million a year into the MTA budget to provide regular, ongoing support for the increases in maintenance related to the Subway Action Plan.</p> <p>The new money is very welcome for the beleaguered transit system, but major policy and funding questions like the MTA’s long-term capital construction program and whether a congestion pricing program will become integral to future sources of funds remain unanswered.</p> <p>The $836 million to be delivered in 2018 is a combination of about $500 million in operating funds to cover the expense of several thousand new maintenance positions in subway car overhauls, replacing track and signals, deploying emergency personnel, and other staffing, with the rest investments in related physical assets. Half the money for the 2018 infusion was initially put into the proposed executive budget submitted by Governor Cuomo to the Legislature from state funds.&nbsp;The State Legislature agreed to that and also to compel the City of New York to come up with the other half of the funds, $418 million, despite Mayor de Blasio’s objections to the city being required to provide the money when proposed last year after Governor Cuomo declared a transit emergency. The ongoing deterioration of subway service that led to the emergency declaration impelled the Legislature to agree that both the State and the City must provide additional support to the MTA.</p> <p>Two other proposals in the budget by the governor to force New York City to pay even more money to the MTA were rejected by the Legislature, with the Assembly specifically denying the approvals in both its one-house budget and later in its summary of the enacted budget. These proposals were viewed as far more onerous than the Subway Action Plan mandate. One required the city to pay the full cost of the New York City Transit Capital Plan, which is supposed to be $17 billion over the five years of the current 2015-19 MTA plan. Right now the city’s scheduled contribution is $2.5 billion.</p> <p>The second proposal would give the MTA the authority to determine how much property tax revenue in New York City it could take from “value capture.” This budget bill would allow the MTA to decide how much property tax value is added due to transit improvements it makes in certain zones around the city, and then direct the incremental property tax revenue to itself without the city having a right to approve it, or even have a say in how much money is involved. The Citizens Budget Commission called this proposal “confiscatory.“ Although rejected, versions of these proposals are likely to resurface in the future as the Cuomo administration tries to find ways to shift financial responsibility from the state to the city to fund the MTA.</p> <p>The State Assembly deserves thanks from the public for the $400 million for-hire vehicle trip surcharge for mass transit. Governor Cuomo never put legislation to create a congestion pricing plan into his proposed budget, despite endorsing the concept last summer and creating the Fix NYC Advisory Panel, which offered a congestion pricing framework in a report that was released at the time of the budget. However, in early March the State Assembly, in its one-house budget, proposed the surcharge to fund the recurring maintenance program. A similar surcharge had been a lesser part of the Fix NYC report, which called for a three-year, three-phase program, the main element of which is a charge to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street for most vehicles, designed to yield up to $1 billion a year. But Governor Cuomo put none of it into his budget plan.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo had the good sense to rapidly endorse the Assembly’s trip surcharge, and it was approved by the Senate after the tax was limited solely to Manhattan, with no new charges in the outer boroughs or the suburbs. But there is no other element of a congestion pricing set-up. There is no funding for any infrastructure to electronically record entries into the Manhattan business district, which is phase two of the Fix NYC plan. Existing technology in the taxi and for-hire vehicle industry will pinpoint when those vehicles traverse Manhattan south of 96th Street.</p> <p>Congestion pricing remains in limbo, even as the MTA’s long-term capital construction budget may unravel. In March of this year Standard &amp; Poor downgraded the MTA’s bond rating one notch after an MTA report showed the agency would have a $400 million operating deficit in 2020 and a $600 million operating deficit by 2021, even after two fare and toll hikes. The primary cause of the deficit was reported to be a drop in real estate transaction revenues like the mortgage recording tax, which in part are dedicated to mass transit.</p> <p>The $32 billion 2015-19 MTA Capital Plan, to which the MTA is now committing significant funds as it finally wraps up the prior plan, includes $11 billion from the MTA itself, primarily from money it will borrow. The forecasted deficits, however, are very likely to constrain the ability of the agency to actually borrow that much money. Not only that, but state government’s share of the 2015-19 Capital Plan, $8.5 billion, included $7 billion for which there was only an I.O.U. with no stream of revenue to back it up. Shortfalls in the 2015-19 Plan could materialize soon, just as discussions about the next five-year capital plan are moving forward.</p> <p>The MTA has to propose its 2020-2024 Capital Plan in October 2019. The recent five-year plans have cost about $30 billion each - but if the current plan begins to unravel the 2020 plan will be in trouble. A fall 2017 State Comptroller report expressed concern that the 2020 plan might have shortfalls (meaning lack of sources of funding to pay for projects) similar to the $15 billion shortfalls that plagued decision-makers for both the 2010 and 2015 plans before funding schemes were patched together.</p> <p>The public and the State Legislature need critical information from the MTA very soon to determine the agency’s ability to sustain a meaningful capital program. In 2007 the Legislature made the MTA accelerate submission of its capital plan at that time, earlier than the law had provided, and it could do so again, scheduling a submission for early 2019, rather than the end of the year, to get a better handle on what the problems really are.</p> <p>Congestion pricing involves rational policy proposals to deter vehicles from entering Manhattan to reduce pollution and congestion, and provide a long-term funding stream for the MTA. But this is the second time in ten years a push for congestion pricing has not been successful in the State Legislature. If congestion pricing won’t fly there is no shortage of possibilities for taxes to fund the mass transit system. There are payroll taxes, personal income taxes, corporate income taxes, sales taxes, millionaires’ taxes, mansion taxes, you name it. The issue is the political will. A consensus on funding this most vital of services remains frustratingly elusive, along with the leadership to forge that consensus.</p> <p>***<br />Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JimBrennanNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JimBrennanNY</a>.</p> <p>

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