The MTA is too damn broke. But dont look for the next governor to fix it: With no worthy opposition, Andrew Cuomo is getting away with platitudes. And the citys “transit advocates” arent filling the vacuum.
Cuomo is aware of the MTAs crisis. His 252-page “plan for action” warns that “the MTA system . . . is teetering on the edge of financial collapse.”
Thats good reason to, well, propose a plan of action. But thats all it says. In his “urban agenda,” out yesterday, Cuomo says only that “when [service] cutbacks do occur, they should take into consideration factors other than just the number of riders on a route.”
Mondays “debate” didnt force Cuomo to get specific, either. He fell back on the old accusation that the MTA keeps “two sets of books” (echoing “Manhattan Madam” Kristin Davis), then concluded that “nobodys in charge.”
Yet the MTA does have someone “in charge” -- Jay Walder, who does indeed work for the governor, practically speaking. The agencys chairman is competently tackling the MTAs chronic deficit, which will again reach $2 billion, or more than 16 percent of revenues, in four years time.
But theres only so much that Walder can do unless hes got a governor who is tough on labor.
That is not the same as being tough on waste, fraud and abuse. It means tackling whats legal and out in the open.
To wit: Walder has asked unionized commuter-rail employees for two-year wage freezes when their contracts expire, to help save $200 million a year. He wants to put the savings into the MTAs $26 billion plan to repair and upgrade infrastructure -- which has a $10 billion hole.
But Walder will have a tough time unless the next governor stands behind him.
So here are the questions that Cuomo should answer now:
* Does he support Walders modest call for a wage freeze?
* Does he think future workers should pay more for MTA pensions, which will soon cost $1.3 billion a year, four times what they did a decade ago?
* How will Cuomo slash bloated spending statewide so that New York can finish projects like the Second Avenue Subway?
Cuomos campaign declined to answer these questions yesterday.
If his Republican opponent, Carl Paladino, had something serious to say, maybe Cuomo would feel pressure. But Paladinos big idea is to abolish the MTA. (Sorry: Thats not even legal, unless Albany wins voter approval to pay off the authoritys $30 billion in debt first.)
Since Paladino has checked out, its up to “transit advocates” to press Cuomo. Yesterday, Transportation Alternatives and the Drum Major Institute, two advocacy groups, put out a report supposedly doing just that.
They rightly note that the MTA has too much debt and that Albany steals its “dedicated” money. Yet their big idea is for the state to give the MTA yet more money (and then not steal it back) and to get money from Washington, too.
How bout the MTAs spending, which has risen by 8 percent a year over the last half-decade, nearly three times inflation? How bout those 4 percent annual raises that the MTAs biggest union got last year at the behest of the current governor, costing nearly $300 million annually when fully phased in, even as private-sector workers suffered an income decline? Not a word.
When I asked Drum Major Institute analyst John Petro if hed ask Cuomo to support the union wage freeze at the commuter rails as a down-payment on capital costs and as goodwill to riders and taxpayers who already have to pay more, he was crystal clear:
“Anti-union zealots and conservative think-tank pundits should stop demonizing transit workers, who make a modest living, and stop wildly overstating the labor costs of the transit system . . . We will not support a wage freeze . . . for struggling working people,” he said.
Modest? Struggling? The average union worker at Metro North makes $89,028 in wages and another $36,422 in benefits, according to data that the MTA gave me. The same worker at the LIRR makes $84,872, plus another $37,720 in benefits.
In four years time, the MTA will spend more than $8 billion a year on labor, up 17 percent from today even if inflation stays low. Its hard to “wildly overstate” the problem.
With friends like these, transit doesnt need enemies. New Yorkers can look forward to worse service, (even) higher fares and the possibility that the next governor will have to cancel big projects, as New Jersey has.
“Advocacy” whining, plus $2.25, will get you from here to Brooklyn (maybe).
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/ignoring_the_cri_at_the_mta_WmTeNIWTj2QhPmdzPZSFKP