The Gov's False MTA Cleanup
FRESH from the Metropoli tan Transportation Authority bailout, Gov. Paterson said last Thursday that "the public doesn't trust anything the MTA says."
True. But that's how Albany likes it. And, sickeningly, Paterson's efforts to "clean up" the MTA may ensure that things stay that way.
In his faux cleanup, Paterson threw MTA CEO Elliot Sander under the bus. Paterson spun the story, making it seem like getting rid of Sander was like getting rid of the pre-bailout head of AIG. But Sander -- who leaves his post in less than two weeks -- wasn't the problem.
No, he wasn't perfect. He didn't speak out about the unionized labor costs that are killing the authority. But he's a competent, seemingly honest manager who made a best-faith effort to turn around the unwieldy authority. He put managers in charge of each train line so that it's easier to figure out who's responsible for a problem and cut costs where he could without drawing the ire of unionized labor.
This cost-cutting was only a start. But Sander did think seriously about it and start to do it -- a miracle for Albany.
Sander also issued an early warning about the financial perils facing the MTA -- raising fares despite then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer's demagoguery. Plus, Sander has been a relentless advocate of the MTA's capital plan -- our protection against the system's deterioration.
There'd be no reason for New Yorkers to care about these personnel issues, except that they bode poorly for the MTA and the region's economy. It would be one thing if Paterson just wanted to bring his own person in to execute a different good-faith strategy or even to do what Paterson thinks could be a better job. But if Paterson thinks that Sander is such a problem that he has to leave right away, it shows that Paterson hasn't assessed the situation properly. And if he's just pretending to think so, it's worse.
Paterson has made it difficult, if not impossible, to get a qualified person to head the MTA now, even if he wanted one. In the perverse world of Albany, taking the job under the conditions that Paterson has helped create would identify the candidate as a hack, dumb or crazy. It's obvious that Albany won't give the MTA chief the financial or political resources to do the job properly. Plus, the pols blame the MTA chief for their mistakes. So that dark probability is that Albany got rid of Sander because it wants someone less diligent and competent. How's that?
First, Albany may be salivating over patronage -- the MTA's white-collar jobs. Sander resisted playing this game, preferring a system run by people who once in a while think about what they're doing in between calculating their pensions.
Second, Albany may want someone who'll shut up about the fact that the MTA still doesn't have enough money for its capital plan.
Third, the pols may want someone more willing to use financial shenanigans to push the MTA's problems into the future. In the past, under Marc Shaw, now a Paterson adviser, who last week was thought to be a contender for Sander's job, the MTA piled on billions of dollars in debt to give the pols a free ride.
Most of all, the pols may want someone whose actions make the MTA less credible to the public, not more.
Why? If people trust the MTA to build the transit system New York needs, they'll demand money for that work. That money would have to come from the parts of the budget that make pols rich -- notably, the state's corrupt health-care programs.
In fact, Albany may have ditched Sander because he came a little too close to doing what Albany says it wants. He almost made people believe that the MTA could be trustworthy. If that happened, Albany -- and Mayor Bloomberg, too -- would be in trouble. People would put the blame for the shameful fact that our transit system is making New York uncompetitive squarely where it belongs -- on the pols.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/05112009/postopinion/opedcolumnists/patersons_fall_guy_168602.htm