While Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio announced in October that they had finally come to an agreement on funding for the 2015-2019 MTA Capital Plan—$2.5 billion from the City, and $8.3 billion from the State—the plan has yet to be approved by the state legislature, which has yet to figure out where their portion is coming from. The picture didn't get any clearer at a City Council budget hearing earlier today.
While MTA budget director Douglas Johnson told the Council that the funding is "more necessary than ever," he offered few details on how that would happen, only stating that the money for the MTA's 2015-2019 Capital Plan will "come through when the state budget funding comes through next month."
"What are the other sources of revenue for the MTA? Other than the State and the City?" wondered Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodríguez.
"Fare and tolls cover more than half of expenses," said MTA senior director of capital programs Craig Stewart. Sadly, that money has a reliable and traceable source.
Instead of grilling the MTA representatives on the budgetary issues, councilmembers largely focused on the day-to-day public transit issues facing their constituents—from the temporary maintenance shutdowns along the N line ("It takes an hour and a half to get from one end of Brooklyn to another because of the N train disruptions," said Sunset Park Councilmember Carlos Menchaca), to delays on the 7 train that, according to Queens Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, have compelled some of his constituents to move out of Long Island City.
Earlier this week, the NYC Independent Budget Office released a report that confirms the fears voiced by activists and legislators that Governor Cuomo's 2016 budget "punts" on the MTA's capital funding.
Page 7 of Governor Cuomo's budget calls on the state to "[fulfill] its aggregated commitment... no later than state fiscal year 2025-26 or by the completion of the capital program."
According to the IBO, the completion of the Capital Plan "could conceivably be even later" than 2026. Here's why: According to the MTA, State funding will be "necessary"—i.e. the billions will become available—as soon as the agency has committed the remainder of its 2010-2014 Capital Plan. The process of allocating MTA capital funds is slow by nature, since the agency has to decide what projects to prioritize before tackling the logistics of getting shovels into the dirt. In June, a report from the Independent Budget Office revealed that about $10 billion of the MTA's previous plan was still available for allocation.
This week's IBO report also points out that the terms of the City's $1.8 billion contribution ($657 million was already allotted in last year's spending plan) stipulate that funds will be administered on the same schedule as the State's contribution. A spokeswoman for the City confirmed this, stressing that the City has confidence that the State funding will come through.
In other words, MTA riders could be left waiting for the funding while the State and the City play chicken. What's more, the IBO points out, Cuomo's budget "anticipates," rather than mandates, that the funding eventually be disbursed on this timeline: $1.5 billion in the first year, $2.6 billion in the second, $1.8 billion in the third, and $1.4 billion in the fourth year.
"While there is agreement on the total amount of funding," Alan Treffeisen writes in the IBO report, "the requirement that the MTA first exhaust other resources, plus the fact that once those resources are exhausted the disbursement schedule for the state aid is suggested rather than legally mandated, means that the MTA could experience delays in obtaining needed funds."
Reached for comment earlier this month, both the Governor's office and the MTA confirmed that the budget proposal doesn't include a set date for when funds would be allocated. However, both offices insisted that the proposal is "iron-clad" in its eventual funding commitment—whatever that means.