Testimony to MTA Board on 2020-2024 Capital Plan: MTA Must Provide Honest Spending and Implementation Plans

Testimony of Rachael Fauss, Reinvent Albany
Before MTA Board
Re: MTA 2020-2024 Capital Plan Delivery
September 23, 2019
Good morning. I am Rachael Fauss, Senior Research Analyst for Reinvent Albany. We advocate for more transparent and accountable state government, including state authorities like the MTA.

I am are here to speak about the 2020-2024 MTA Capital Plan. The enormous amount of funding pledged to the MTA is hugely welcome, badly needed, and we hope all spent and well spent. This said, we have major concerns about the MTA’s ability to build all of these projects within a politically viable timeframe — by our reckoning billions will not have been spent a decade after the plan has started.

Our analysis of MTA Capital Spending shows the biggest constraint on completing MTA capital plans is the MTA’s ability to spend, not find funding. Our analysis looks at expenditures, not commitments. Our five major findings are:

  1. Even optimistically, it will likely take the MTA more than 10 years to spend $55B in new funds. MTA’s highest ever capital spending was $6.6B in 2018. But, the most spent on a single plan in one year was $4.5B in 2009.
  2. The announced funding is not guaranteed. A Democratic President gave the MTA $7B for the 2015-2019 plan, and this new plan expects $10.7B from the feds. It also assumes NYC will pay $3B. The Mayor’s recent letter to the MTA board shows that this funding will be conditional.
  3. New proposed borrowing may negatively affect the operating budget. The plan relies on $10B of new borrowing. The MTA already spends 17% of its operating budget on debt service.
  4. The plan lacks the same basic transparency as the 2015-2019 plan, providing less detail for more spending.
  5. Amendments to the 2015-2019 and 2010-2014 plan lack a clear, itemized list of changes, and contain new, deferred and rolled over projects that are buried in pages of narrative text.

The MTA will inevitably have to choose which projects come first and last, so it is best that they do so transparently.

To increase public transparency and accountability, we urge the MTA to publish:

  1. An honest spending plan showing realistically how much MTA can actually spend per year.
  2. A clear implementation plan showing which projects come first and when all projects will be started and completed.
  3. Informative project listings, including commitment, expenditure, start and completion schedules for all projects. This should also include specific locations for items that currently say “various locations.”
  4. A detailed debt analysis of how debt service payments will affect the MTA’s operating budget.
  5. An itemized listing of all projects changes from amendments to the 2010-2014 and 2015-2019 plans.

Thank you for your consideration.