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New York City: Enough already—fund the MTA capital plan

Posted by Steve Anderson on Monday, August 24th, 2015

The following article was written by InfrastructureUSA’s managing director, Steve Anderson, along with Joyce Miller, CEO of Tier One Public Strategies, and Michael Locker, president of Locker Associates. The article originally appeared on Crain’s New York.

New York’s lack of commitment to the transit system is a reflection of our state’s priorities and an indicator of our future.

Recently the New York state legislative session ended without the funding of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s desperately needed capital plan. What a shame.

The MTA is a lifeline for the 8.6 million New Yorkers who rely on it every day to go to work, get to school, or obtain health care, food and shelter; in short, to live.

The upkeep, integrity, safety and functionality of the MTA affect all New Yorkers. Without the MTA, our economy, upstate and downstate, would simply not be solvent. A large percentage of state revenue can be attributed to the profits, jobs and taxes generated by the transit system. That revenue translates into critical funding and services that benefit every New Yorker.

Currently that system, so essential to our economy and our citizens, is failing and in crisis. The MTA’s enormous debt—more than $20 billion—is larger than that of many nations.

At the same time, its infrastructure is crumbling. To overcome this crisis the legislature, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo must address both the need to pay down the debt while simultaneously investing in the MTA’s present and future. This is impossible without a properly funded, well-conceived and fully-supported capital plan.

New York’s commitment, or lack thereof, is a reflection of our state’s priorities and an indicator of our future. According to the General Contractors Association of New York, 83% of subway stations are in poor repair, 37% of MTA’s mainline signals have exceeded their useful life, and tunnels and bridges in dire need of repair are too numerous to name. Simply fixing the system, debt aside, requires a serious capital investment. Completing projects conceived to improve the current system—including the long-awaited Second Avenue subway—requires, at the very least, the funding of the five-year capital plan approved by the MTA board of directors.

Again, this is not merely a matter of transportation, safety or convenience. The 2010-2014 capital program generated 350,000 jobs and $44 billion for New York state. According to the New York Building Congress, the MTA alone accounts for 25% of New York’s construction industry.

The governor is concerned about how to pay for the capital plan and does not want to raise taxes. This is understandable on both a political and practical level. However, it is absolutely necessary that the governor, mayor and legislature find a way to fund this plan.

Recently Mr. Cuomo proposed a framework for funding the capital plan that included a reduction of its budget by $2 billion and a demand that the city contribute additional funds. We applaud the governor for putting forth a proposal and recognizing the importance of the capital plan. Still, while a bureaucratic tug-of-war between the city and Albany plays itself out, serious questions remain about how to close the funding gap without further relying on debt. Plenty of options have been suggested, including:

  • The removal of payroll mobility tax exemptions, so more or all employers in the 12-county MTA service area would pay the tax.
  • Using the $4 billion New York received in bank settlement funds.
  • Congestion pricing, such as a uniform toll for all auto users entering the Manhattan central business district.
  • Lifting the cap on the state’s gasoline tax and dedicating the revenues to transit and transportation.

There are no easy solutions, but being a member of the legislature, running a city, or governing a state is not an easy job. It does, however, require the effort and fortitude to face our most essential public-policy problems head-on, and to negotiate in good faith—not to procrastinate because it is convenient. For New York, for our future, and for ourselves we must demand that the governor, mayor and state legislature not rest until a MTA capital plan is passed.

Steve Anderson is founder and managing director of Infrastructure USA. Joyce Miller is president and CEO of Tier One Public Strategies. Michael Locker is founder and president of Locker Associates. All are members of the Business and Labor Coalition of New York’s Infrastructure Initiative Committee.

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