In a letter sent to City and State officials yesterday afternoon, MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast announced that his ever-struggling system, which has long faced a crushing $14 billion deficit to its $32 billion 2015-19 capital plan, has figured out a way to cut costs by 6-8%.
Now, Prendergast argues, is a good time for the City and State to pony up and close the slightly smaller estimated deficit of $9.8 billion.
How does the MTA plan to swing this smaller deficit? Through a "design-build" approach (the same contractor who designs the project also builds it), and by partnering with more private companies. The MTA also recently stumbled across a surprise $2.4 billion, according to Prendergast, "in unanticipated revenues, aggressive cost-cutting and more efficient operations."
In his letter, the Chairman went on to suggest specific dollar amounts: An extra $200 million per year from the city for the next five years (on top of the $125 million annually de Blasio agreed to in May), plus $1.5 billion to jumpstart the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway. It would then be on the State to fund the rest of the plan, to the tune of $7.3 billion (on top of its current annual contribution of $1 billion).
"We believe this split is more than equitable to the City, particularly given that $22 billion of the $26.8 billion capital program is for projects in New York City," he added.
Prendergast's letter was in response to one sent Wednesday by First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, which reiterated the sort of apocalyptic language we've been hearing for months from the MTA. "Without a funding solution, the MTA will be unable to maintain the system in a state of good repair, forfeiting the progress that has been made in bringing the system back from the brink of collapse in the 1980s," he said.
"Given the urgency of the situation, the City is ready and willing to work with the state to develop a sound, long-term solution." However, Shorris stressed that he thinks the onus is on the State, and suggested that Albany reconsider the controversial MoveNY Plan, which would charge drivers a toll for crossing the city's currently-free East River bridges.
Speaking last night on NY1, Governor Cuomo sprinkled some rare words of praise on the MTA, which he essentially controls. "The MTA is a vital organization for the whole metropolitan region," he said. "And anyone who is familiar with the system at all, knows it has had significant stresses over the years."
Adding that he doesn't want the current, smaller deficit to translate into fare increases for straphangers, Cuomo said, "I think [Prendergast's] right—that between the state and the city we should make up the $9.8 billion."
He added, "I could argue that it’s a little burdensome on the state. But I would accept the MTA’s numbers just to get it done and to go forward." Although, as Capital points out, he didn't explain where his contribution of $7.3 billion would come from.
A de Blasio spokeswoman said the administration was "reviewing the letter," urging everyone not to forget that "just a few months ago, the City increased our capital contribution to the MTA to $657 million—the largest general capital contribution to the agency in recent history."
The Straphangers Campaign also weighed in on the letter, stating, "We are encouraged that the MTA plans to find up to $3 billion in savings." However, "Our chief concern is, how heavily will the new capital program rely on debt? The MTA already owes $34 billion, more than the national debt of dozens of foreign countries."