The chairman of the MTA and the governor who appointed him announced on Thursday that they aren't ultimately responsible for what happens to the beleaguered subway system, and that it's the city's job to fund the state-run transit authority.
"They own it, they lease it to the MTA to operate it, and it's their responsibility to fund it," MTA Chairman Joe Lhota explained at a press conference, citing portions of a 1981 legal statute.
The comments came hours after Governor Cuomo's nearly identical declaration citing that same 1981 statute: that the state is not actually responsible for the subway, but is merely kicking some money our way out of a "moral obligation." On Wednesday, the governor's spokesperson had accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of failing to read "the law"—this one from 1953—that made the city "solely responsible" for funding the MTA's capital plan. And that came after a Siena college poll found waning voter support for Cuomo, partially due to his handling of the subway crisis.
"This is not about politics," Lhota assured reporters at the hastily scheduled, utterly astounding press conference. "This is about having the city constantly saying that they have no role in the [New York City Transit Agency]."
Responding to Lhota's comments, mayoral spokesman Austin Finan said that the city has "constantly pointed out the City's unprecedented $2.5 billion contribution to the MTA capital plan." He also called on Governor Cuomo to "stop the diversions and obfuscation," while maintaining that it's ultimately the MTA's responsibility to fund the five-year, $29.5 billion capital plan.
In 2015, following the longest capital plan approval process in state history, the city agreed to commit $2.5 billion to the plan, a sharp increase from previous contributions to the authority. The state has pledged $8 billion, though that money won't be spent until all other funding sources are exhausted. As it stands, neither the state or city has delivered their money to the MTA.
As Politico's Dana Rubinstein notes, the state's contribution to the capital program is funded in large part by New Yorkers, who also cover more than two thirds of the MTA's operating budget through fare swipes and taxes, according to the Village Voice. While the operating budget covers day-to-day needs, the capital plan goes toward large scale infrastructure projects, including desperately needed signal upgrades.
According to State Senator Mike Gianaris, who represents parts of Queens, Lhota and Cuomo are wrong. "The State needs to step up and provide a funding stream for maintenance and repairs, not pass the buck to avoid responsibility," he said in a statement.
The plea for Cuomo to stop pretending he doesn't control the subways has extended to MTA boardmembers. Last month, James Vitiello, a Dutchess County appointee, said at a public board meetingthat the governor "sets the priorities in very real ways, he determines the finances in very real ways, and in very real ways controls the messaging of the MTA."
"It is not uncommon as a board member here to find out [about] an initiative of the MTA through a press release from the Governor's Office that you subsequently vote on and, in my experience, universally approve," Vitiello added.
A spokesperson for Cuomo's office did not respond to a request for comment.
In sum, no one can agree on who is charge of the country's largest transit system, and the guy just tapped to fix things is focused on making sure you're not mad at his boss, who controls the subway. Happy commuting, please enjoy some rage tweets from the Press Conference About Nothing:
This is astonishing. Joe Lhota now saying the subways are merely "an affiliate of the MTA"
— Dana Rubinstein (@danarubinstein) July 20, 2017
the governor is brazenly lying about the state's obligation to fund transit because the mayor was mean about his fancy light show
— slackbot (@pareene) July 20, 2017
Hey look, Lhota and MTA staff has same copy of 1981 statute that the gov's office sent reporters... pic.twitter.com/BI36Q0HlBb
— Dan Rivoli (@danrivoli) July 20, 2017
If you had any hope that Lhota was brought in to be something other than Cuomo's lap dog, that's gone fully out the window.
— Second Ave. Sagas (@2AvSagas) July 20, 2017
1. Like past MTA chairs, Joe Lhota is Cuomo's puppet.
2. The state government has no intention of owning this crisis
3. This is a travesty
— Ross Barkan (@RossBarkan) July 20, 2017
Joe Lhota just called this an "urban legend" pic.twitter.com/hjHl5X5nUu
— Christopher Robbins (@ChristRobbins) July 20, 2017
— Nicole Gelinas (@nicolegelinas) July 20, 2017
The governor of New York is, through Lhota, trying to make the claim that he doesn't control the nation's largest transit system (he does). https://t.co/wx240LH9eR
— Yonah Freemark (@yfreemark) July 20, 2017