Over the weekend, city and state authorities announced an agreement to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s extensive plan to expand and maintain the region’s transit system.
The financing deal, which ends months of contentious debate over the city’s contributions into the five-year, $26.1 billion capital program, will fund projects that will add to the state’s fleet of buses and trains and install countdown clocks for lettered subway lines.
The city will contribute $2.5 billion, almost four times its initial offer, while the state will shoulder $8.3 billion.
While transportation officials and advocates agree that the plan is necessary to fix the region’s ailing transportation system, the reaction to the deal is not homogeneous.
The Citizens Budget Commission, a non-partisan fiscal watchdog, called the plan “an important and constructive step” for improving the transportation infrastructure in the region.
However, it also warned that “additional steps must be taken in a timely manner” to offset the program’s shortfall on funds.
“The plan will now be $26.1 billion, less than the $29 billion initially sought by the MTA Board and less than the $26.8 billion more recently sought by Chairman Prendergast. These challenging cuts should be made in accord with priorities favoring progress toward a state of good repair and enhanced signaling systems over less urgent, albeit desirable, system expansions,” the document read.
“The Mayor and Governor and their budget staffs should identify the sources of their committed funds. As the CBC has pointed out previously, the important issue is not through which tax collecting entity – City or State – the money will flow, but whether the money will come via taxes on the region’s residents and businesses, fares from MTA riders, or fees and tolls from motor vehicle users.”
Transport Workers Union Local 100, which ran attack ads against Mayor Bill de Blasio a week ago, lauded the agreement while criticizing the city government.
“The TWU’s aggressive media campaign that targeted the Mayor, who was on the wrong side of this issue, had to be done to get the public involved and raise the level of attention being given to this terribly important issue,” said John Samuelsen, the group’s president.
“Over 3,000 TWU members earn their livelihoods keeping our transit system in a state of good repair, and if the failure to properly fund continued, it would have hurt workers and riders alike, to say nothing of the long term negative impact on the region’s economy.”
Bronx President Ruben Diaz, Jr., whose constituency will be serviced by Metro North’s planned expansion to the East Bronx, called the plan “the most significant infrastructure improvement our borough has seen in decades.”
“The establishment of new commuter stations in Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester/Van Nest and Hunts Point will not only offer residents of these communities a new transportation option, it will open the East Bronx corridor to new residential and commercial development opportunities,” he said in a statement.
The deal represents a turnaround in the on-again, off-again relationship between de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. Last July, Cuomo described their relationship as “professional.” As the two sides neared a deal, Cuomo reverted to calling de Blasio “a friend.”
The two sparred all summer long over different issues, particularly the 421-a tax abatement program and mayoral control of public schools.
The capital plan represented the next stage of the feud. The city initially pledged $657 million to the MTA plan, with the mayor asking for guarantees that the money won’t be allocated for something else in the state budget.
“There have to be ground rules that protect the taxpayers of New York City and protect the straphangers… The one thing we will not do is put money into an MTA budget to see it siphoned off,” de Blasio said in a radio interview last week, as he reprised a talking point during the negotiations.
Over the past few weeks, Cuomo questioned de Blasio’s willingness to invest in the city’s transportation system.
“You know how you know when someone wants to do it? They put their money where their mouth is,” he said in an earlier radio interview.
According to the terms of the deal, $1.9 billion of the city’s contribution will come from the city budget. The state’s share, meanwhile, will be taken out of its general fund.