Testimony to MTA on Transparency for Reorganization and Capital Plans

Testimony of Rachael Fauss, Reinvent Albany
Before MTA Board of Directors
Re: Transparency Needed on Reorganization and Capital Plans
June 26, 2019

Good morning. I am Rachael Fauss, Senior Research Analyst for Reinvent Albany. We advocate for more transparent and accountable state government, including for state authorities like the MTA.

Reinvent Albany and five other groups, New York City Transit Riders Council, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, Riders Alliance, TransitCenter and Tri-State Transportation Campaign, issued a statement this morning raising a number of areas of concern regarding the MTA’s fiscal health and welfare, which we believe the MTA Board, Governor and Legislature must consider:

    1. Governor Cuomo must deliver the remaining $7.3B in “Direct State Payments” Budgeted for the 2015-2019 Capital Plan.

 

    1. “Rolling Over” current capital projects to the 2020-2024 capital plan, as suggested by Board Member Schwartz yesterday at the Finance Committee, amounts to a reduction in size or cut to the current capital plan. If these changes are being seriously considered, they should follow the regular capital amendment process.

 

    1. The MTA already has dangerous levels of debt and will be paying more than 3 times recommended levels by 2021 when MTA debt will equal 19% of the operating budget.

 

    1. The MTA reorganization effort should be transparent, and the public should have time to review and comment. Our groups have called upon Chairman Foye and the Governor and the Legislative Leaders to ensure that plans are released ASAP for public input.

 

  1. The MTA’s federal Transit Asset Management (TAM) Plan and Twenty-Year Needs Assessment should be public documents and used to determine how much the 2020-2024 capital plan will spend on achieving a state of good repair.

Beyond these issues, Reinvent Albany is concerned there have been steps backward for MTA accountability and completely, contrary to needed reforms that clarify the chain of command, accountability and transparency. This year’s “Big Ugly” bill included two changes to MTA management and governance that lessen accountability: (1) making the state budget director “ex officio” despite concerns about meeting the fiduciary duty to the MTA, and (2) the MTA Board hiring a “Director of Transformation” when all other staff positions are hired by the Governor or CEO.

Given these concerns, the MTA Board should clarify the powers and responsibilities of the “Director of Transformation” as soon as possible, and require this person make regular public reports about their activities and plans. And again, any reorganization plans must be made public as soon as possible.

The same transparency should apply to the capital planning process to ensure the 2020-2024 plan best serves riders – including public release of the federal TAM plan and 20-year needs assessment.

Thank you for your consideration.