With the MTA getting ready to talk budgets and fare hikes next week, budget watchdog Citizens Budget Commission has released a report [PDF] calling the Authority's books into question and proposing a radically different budget that would cost commuters even more. But at least it would be worse on drivers—and leave the MTA with a chance to beat its debt?
The CBC's report first goes through the MTA's rough budget—which it says shows no sign of getting better. Not with outstanding debt, which increased from $14 billion to $32 billion between 2000 and 2011, expected to hit $39 billion by 2015. So what to do? The commission suggests a "25-50-25" budget. That breaks down like this:
- 25 percent of the MTA's budget would be paid for by drivers IN ADDITION their tolls and taxes would also have to entirely cover the upkeep of bridges and tunnels (which they do now). That would mean tolls going up to as much as $9 (the Verrazano is a different story).
- Mass transit riders would have to pay 50 percent of the MTA's budget as opposed to the 39 percent they pay now. That means subway fares up to a bit more than $3 a ride and monthly MetroCards for around $140!
- Finally, state and local taxes would cover the final 25 percent as well as 'catch-up' capital investments when needed.
It isn't necessarily the prettiest of solutions—nobody likes a fare hike—but it would in the end cost drivers the most, which is always fun. And the CBC feels confident their plan would raise more than $2 billion by 2016 without new taxes, which would be pretty useful. Still there is already some skepticism of the just released proposal. The Straphanger's Campaign, for instance, put out a release that praised the CBC's "emphasis on the vital need for capital repairs to the transit system and the financial impact of the MTA’s having to borrow more than $31 billion" but also expressed serious concern about the idea of asking New Yorkers to pay even more at the farebox when we already have the "highest fare box operating ratio—the share of operating costs covered by fares—in the nation."
Meanwhile, MTA chairman Joesph Lhota released this statment on the CBC's budget:
“We appreciate the Citizens Budget Commission's attempt to take a serious look at the MTA's financial challenges and offer thoughtful recommendations on how to meet them. The MTA has made great strides in cutting costs and stabilizing its finances, and has regularly said we need a stable and reliable funding source for the sake of all our customers and the entire New York economy. However, the CBC's choice of budgeting methods would create the appearance of a phantom deficit, instead of reflecting our fully balanced budget as required by law. Still, we are glad the CBC is helping to advance the discussion of how to stabilize the MTA's long-term finances.”