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Cuomo, Who Controls The MTA, Asks To Control The MTA While Unilaterally Setting Agenda For MTA

"I'm not in control, I just point at stuff."
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"I'm not in control, I just point at stuff." Via governor's Flickr

Governor Andrew Cuomo will get his "emergency" meeting on the L train shutdown cancellation after all—despite concerns among MTA board members that the last-minute gathering is little more than a publicity stunt that just so happens to coincide with the governor's State of the State speech on Tuesday.

There will not be a vote by the board, nor will there be a full engineering plan presented during the meeting. But the consulting firm WSP—which previously backed the full 15-month closure of the Canarsie Tunnel for repairs—will announce their support for the governor's proposal to halt the shutdown, according to an MTA press release sent out on Sunday. The meeting, scheduled for 12 p.m. at MTA headquarters at 2 Broadway, will be open to the public, giving New Yorkers the opportunity to shout in the general direction of transit officials who, by all appearances, do not know what's happening either.

News of the meeting came as a shock to some board members, who say they were assured last week it would not actually happen. "I was very surprised to receive notice of this emergency meeting, particularly 30 minutes before the press release was sent out by the agency," MTA board member Veronica Vanterpool told Gothamist on Monday. "It's not clear why this is happening now, or how this is a good use of resources and time."

Cuomo had repeatedly called for the meeting, even as other transit leaders argued that it would make more sense to wait for a scheduled board briefing later this month. Speaking to a community board last week, NYC Transit President Andy Byford said "there’s really kind of no point" in attempting to convene such a last minute gathering.

Surely, you might think, the governor would not continue to claim that he does not control the MTA while single-handedly setting its agenda? You would be wrong.

On Sunday, less than an hour after the meeting was announced, Cuomo's press office issued a lengthy statement calling for a "fact driven analysis" about how the governor does not actually control the MTA. The statement, attributed to budget director Robert Mujica, praises Cuomo's "record of accomplishment" while repeating his assertion that he should be given more direct power over the agency.

"The Governor is not going to represent to the people of the state that he is responsible for the MTA when he isn't," Mujica said. Presently, the governor appoints the authority's chief executive and a plurality of board members, and also just personally overturned a multi-million dollar tunnel rehabilitation project that was three years in the making.

The statement also called for funding shortfalls to be split 50-50 between the city and the state, while echoing Cuomo's claim that the city is ultimately responsible for funding the subways. As former Lieutenant Governor and MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch told us when Cuomo made this same point over the summer, the argument about city ownership is "categorically untrue, and I have no idea where he got that from." Politico also points out "there are very few experts outside of the Cuomo administration who agree with that contention."

Mujica went on to list a host of structural reforms that could be undertaken to make the MTA less "dysfunctional." He lamented the "duplication of efforts within MTA subdivisions and back office functions," and questioned a strange rule that gives four leaders—Cuomo, plus Mayor Bill de Blasio, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins—the power to veto the subway's capital budget. The budget director also took aim at the authority's "over reliance on a small number of contractors who have long-term incestuous relationships with the MTA." He did not mention that the same contractor and consultants involved in the initial L train plan will be overseeing this new effort.

Asked about the comments, Vanterpool told Gothamist that she found the suggestions vague and "not actually substantive."

"I welcome conversations about governance reform," she added. "Let's start with allowing for thorough discourse from the board. Informing board members of a meeting on a very important topic with one business day's notice doesn't really suggest that there's a real effort to encourage improved governance here."

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