2010-04-02 / Columnists

From The Councilman’s Desk

MTA Cuts Don’t Make Cents
Commentary By Councilman Eric Ulrich

Last Wednesday, the MTA Executive Board passed a package of service cuts aimed at tackling an $800 million budget shortfall for 2010. According to the MTA, the total of nearly $800 million is due largely to the deterioration of projected payroll tax revenues, coupled with a State cut of $143 million to the agency’s budget that was diverted to the State’s general fund. All changes (bus, rail, and otherwise) are scheduled to take effect on June 27, 2010.

While all these cuts are painful, one hits particularly close to home. Despite overwhelming community and political opposition, the resident rebate program for Rockaway and Broad Channel residents will be reduced to only allow registered residents a toll rebate after two E-ZPass tolls have been charged against an E-ZPass tag in a calendar day. A something-is-better-than-nothing compromise is both insulting and unacceptable. The current cost of the resident rebate program to the MTA is approximately $4.1 million per year, and it is estimated that the revisions to the program would cut the program’s cost to roughly $600,000 per year, for an annualized savings of $3.5 million in funds - a mere drop in the bucket when compared to the overall $800 million shortfall. Why should Rockaway and Broad Channel residents have to pay for the MTA’s incompetence? Like every massive bu- reaucracy, the MTA is far from perfect. It is riddled with mismanagement, and inefficiencies. Forcing the MTA to become more transparent and accountable may hold the key to taming what has already become a tiger-by-the-tail. A number of my colleagues in government have recommended creating an independent state budget office for public authorities like the MTA. This would provide desperately needed oversight and would save public money while improving management at the MTA. Reforms such as these are essential to restoring the public’s confidence in their transportation provider.

These measures would also yield tremendous savings to the MTA. City Comptroller John Liu recently highlighted $250 million the MTA has squandered in connection with an illconceived and ill-fated Lockheed-Martin contract. This finding was verified by the MTA Inspector General who also concluded that the agency has routinely bloated the performance evaluation of contractors’ work. Yet, business-as-usual continues to plague the MTA while city residents and straphangers alike are simply left stranded. The service cuts passed by the MTA do not make sense. They represent a cluster of short-term fiscal gimmicks that will not close the budget gap. On the contrary, the lower ridership expected as a result of these cuts, will actually decrease revenue and will do nothing to solve the long-term sustainability problems that the MTA must face. The residents of Rockaway and Broad Channel, as well as every taxpaying New Yorker, deserve better. Cutting off the lifeline of two small communities will not bridge the gap.

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