THE MTA is cracking under the weight of its labor costs. Yet Gov. Patersons pick to head the state-run authority, Jay Walder, has so far fudged on this most important aspect of the MTAs future.
Not that the state senators who must approve his nomination have even bothered to ask him ahead of their vote tomorrow.
The MTAs finances remain in an emergency state despite Albanys having recently approved a $1.8 billion-a-year bailout.
Last week, bond analysts at Fitch Ratings sounded the alarm about an “essential” $400 million that the MTA gets each year from the Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority. The money is in jeopardy, because Triborough may need it to support its own repairs: Its bridges and tunnels could suffer if it has to fork over the $400 million to the MTA.
These continued woes are why it was so critical that senators ask Walder exactly what hed do to fix the budget, including with labor. The nearly $7 billion a year -- and rapidly growing -- that the MTA spends on labor is keeping it from making physical investments needed to bring the system into the 21st century.
But so far, Walder has been vague, or worse.
Consider: Once the Senate confirms him, one of Walders first decisions will be whether to pursue the MTAs lawsuit to overturn the hefty raises and other benefits state arbitrators recently awarded to the Transport Workers Union.
If the decision stands, itll add $300 million a year to the MTAs costs -- forever. The arbitrators went backward on health care, asking workers to contribute less.
This deal wasnt necessary in todays economy. Union members who make an average of $64,000 every year werent going to quit under a less generous deal and look for better work.
So would Walder have the MTA keep trying to nix the deal? He wont say.
At a hearing in Harlem yesterday, he told senators that because of the “confidential nature” of arbitration, he hasnt had a chance to learn much about it and cant take a position.
This is a dodge. Everything Walder needs to determine whether he agrees with the arbitrators decision -- the decision itself, an informative dissent and the MTAs budget -- is a matter of public record. His refusal to give a straight answer suggests that he might ditch the lawsuit as an early, easy way to make nice with the TWU.
More worrisome: Walder said he “wants to move forward in a spirit of partnership” with the MTAs workforce -- and with the Legislature.
The problem with a legislative “partnership” is that the MTA chief is supposed to be independent of the political process. Thats why Walders term is for six years, even if Paterson isnt re-elected next year, and why Walder has demanded a big payout -- up to $850,000 -- if anyone tries to make him leave too early.
Maybe hes just telling lawmakers what they want to hear now -- and hell do the right thing later. But thatll be harder to pull off if hes already agreed to a permanent “partnership” with the pols.
On some other issues, Walder had some good things to say, noting that his experience helping to run Londons transit system “opened my eyes to the critical importance of the bus system.” New Yorkers thus can expect him to work with Mayor Bloomberg on real bus lanes that speed traffic, as they have in London.
But the MTA hasnt been lacking in recent years on operational competence or even creativity and vision -- not enough to justify Walders first-year premium of the 21 percent over the MTA chiefs old pay package.
His focus yesterday on the usual distractions like “transparency” and “credibility” are evidence that we should worry that well get more of the same from the MTA -- fine talk on easy stuff, but nothing done on the unmanaged labor costs that are eating the systems physical assets alive.
It wouldve been nice if at least one GOP senator had showed up to yesterdays hearing -- to show Walder and the audience that there is a reasonable alternative in Albany to supporting unions at all economic costs.
Maybe tomorrow, before the vote, some brave senator will ask Walder why two of his goals -- the workforce “partnership” and his desire to put the MTA on a “secure financial footing” -- arent in opposition to one another.
If no one does, weve got to hope that once hes approved, Walder will work to the good of the system and New York -- despite the politicians.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/where_walder_usHAoH39L4yp1W68QWR8bI