After a brief respite from Governor Cuomo's repeated claims that he does not control the MTA, his administration is at it again. On Wednesday evening, Dani Lever, a spokesperson for the governor's office, accused Mayor Bill De Blasio of failing to read "the law," which apparently renders the city "solely responsible for funding [the MTA's] capital plan." It remains unclear what law the spokesperson was referring to, as Lever declined to clarify her comments on the record.
"It's pretty clear on every level that the MTA is a state run agency, that the state is in charge of running the MTA, and because of that, funding the MTA," said Nick Sifuentes of the Riders Alliance, the straphangers' advocacy group. "It seems contradictory of our understanding of the way the MTA is structured as a state agency."
Lever's comments came hours after a jab from de Blasio, in which he told reporters that "subway riders were not interested in a light show"—a reference to Cuomo's plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on LED lights for city bridges, with money that was initially supposed to come from the MTA (the governor's office now denies that this is the case).
Mayor on @NYGovCuomo's light shows on bridges: "I can tell you that people who ride the subway are not interested in a light show."
— Grace Rauh (@gracerauh) July 19, 2017
Of course, Cuomo has distanced himself from various aspects of the MTA on multiple occasions, with the logic of the misdirection seemingly correlated to the woes faced by commuters. In May, following a particularly nightmarish day of subway chaos, the governor attempted to convince reporters that the MTA was a "regional transportation system" of which he was but one member. The following month, Cuomo positioned himself as the subway's new savior, and acknowledged that the "MTA was in a state of crisis."
The MTA's capital plan, which covers large infrastructure projects like desperately needed signal upgrades, has long been a point of contention between the mayor and governor. The current $29.5 billion 2015-2019 plan involved the longest capital plan approval process in state history, in some part due to the governor's insistence that the city was not paying enough. The city ultimately committed $2.5 billion to the plan—an unprecedented amount, but $700 million less than the governor originally demanded.
The state, meanwhile, has appropriated around $5.4 billion of a promised $8 billion, though that money won't be spent until all other funding sources are exhausted. The rest of that money comes from federal grants and loans, secured by a recently raised debt ceiling that now eclipses the borrowing power of the entire state.
Still, the timing here is a bit curious, given two statewide polls released this week showing the governor's approval rating is sinking, due largely to his perceived failure to address the subway crisis. But claiming, for the first time ever, that the city is fully in charge of funding the capital plan probably won't help much either—the new poll also found that more New Yorkers than than ever understand that Cuomo is responsible for the MTA.