With Governor Cuomo now calling on state lawmakers to return to the capitol on Wednesday for a vote on mayoral control of city schools, one State Senator is demanding that his fellow politicians remain in Albany until they've also addressed the ever-worsening MTA crisis.
"The MTA crisis is real and it is upon us," said State Senator Michael Gianaris, hours before an A train derailment at 125th Street left 34 injured and sent panicked riders scrambling into the tunnels. "It would be irresponsible for state leaders to allow this to continue without finding a solution and that is what we should do with the urgency this crisis demands."
Tuesday morning's subway derailment—the first since 2015—only underscored the necessity of taking drastic action, said Gianaris, who represents the Queens neighborhoods of Astoria, Sunnyside, and Long Island City. "This is not just a major inconvenience, but a serious physical hazard," he told Gothamist. "We need to get our act together before someone loses a life, because that's the direction this is going."
In Gianaris's view, the situation demands that the governor and state legislature spend the next week finding emergency revenue streams for the transit system—which, by Cuomo's own admission, is in a "state of crisis" caused by "historic underfunding." Earlier this week, the state senator introduced the "Better Trains, Better Cities" plan, which would bring in $2 billion annually through a temporary surcharge on millionaires living in the MTA region.
— Sen. Mike Gianaris (@SenGianaris) June 27, 2017
Modeled after the "Safe Streets, Safe City" program of the 1990s, the personal income tax surcharge would go up with every $5 million one earns, before expiring after three years. The plan would also see the creation of an emergency manager dedicated to using this additional revenue for upgrades and maintenance within the transit system.
"If people have better ideas than mine, I'm open to them," Gianaris added. "But right now, I'm not seeing any proposals from state leadership that deal with the crisis with the seriousness it deserves, and that's very disturbing."
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chairman of the Transportation Committee, today called for a line-by-line audit of the MTA budget. The councilman's spokesman, Russell Murphy, said, "The system is in crisis. Emergency measures need to be taken." Rodriguez endorses closing down train lines for emergency repairs if rider safety is in jeopardy, and said that $60 billion has been spent on capital improvements over the last decade. "The system is failing," Murphy said. "We want to make sure that the money is going to the right places, because that's a lot of money for a system that is not up to snuff."
Elsewhere, E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for Public Policy has suggested that Cuomo redirect some of the billions of dollars sitting in the Dedicated Infrastructure Investment Fund—money that the state has come into through fines and penalties paid out by financial institutions in recent years. While the MTA is set to receive only $315 million from that fund (most of it for a Metro-North commuter rail), a full billion dollars is going toward the Javits Center expansion, and nearly $2 billion will underwrite Cuomo's beloved Tappan Zee Bridge reconstruction.
Gianaris also said that he'd be open to supporting a congestion pricing proposal to impose a toll on drivers entering the city below 60th Street, though he has concerns about its political viability, and "doesn't want to lose any more time." Congestion pricing, first championed by Bloomberg, was blocked years ago in the state legislature, but has gained recent momentum among transit advocates as a city-led initiative.
But regardless of where the funding comes from, the state senator wants Cuomo to "stop pointing fingers," and start acting swiftly. As in this week, when the state's lawmakers reconvene in the capitol for what Cuomo is calling an "extraordinary legislative session."
"I think we can all agree that the MTA crisis is extraordinary, too," Gianaris said. "It's past time that we start treating it that way."
The governor's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.