MTA Must Make Fact-Based Decisions on Debarment, Policing and Capital Plan


Testimony of Reinvent Albany
Before MTA Board

November 14, 2019

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

We are concerned that the MTA, once respected for its technical expertise, is making significant decisions based on “feelings,” anecdotes and politics, rather than data and objective professional assessments.

On debarment — which we strongly oppose — at Monday’s Transit Committee meeting, it was revealed that three vendors didn’t submit proposals on a design-build contract because of risks from debarment. This risks includes factors beyond their control. Debarment is bad policy and a big mistake because it reduces competition. This means higher prices and a smaller pool of expertise to draw from.

At yesterday’s state legislative hearing, MTA leadership basically answered some legislators’ questions by saying “just trust us.” They provided few specifics on how they will manage $88B in total capital spending for the 2020-24 and prior plans. You are fiduciaries of the MTA and should be concerned. At the hearing, it was said that:

  1. The 20-year needs assessment will be released after the Capital Program Review Board approves the 2020-24 capital plan. This raises the question: how did the MTA determine how much restoring the system to a state of good repair will cost? If not the needs assessment, show us what was used.
  2. The first sequence of project construction will be released in the first half of 2020. Whatever level of detail is available now should be released before the CPRB approves the plan.
  3. Old debt will not be retired in meaningful amounts for at least a decade. MTA bonds have already been given a negative outlook by S&P and Moody’s because of the existing debt burden. The MTA should release a detailed debt plan showing exactly how it will pay for $10B in additional borrowing.

Lastly, the MTA budget proposes almost doubling the size of its police force. What are the facts to support this? Overall crime is down and remains near historic lows. The Citizens Budget Commission estimates 581 more officers will bring the deficit up to $1B by 2023. The MTA has failed to explain why a larger police force is the most effective way to address stated concerns about homelessness, public safety, and fare evasion. We and other independent analysts believe the MTA cannot justify or afford this large, ongoing operating expense, and more police will result in direct pressure to cut transit service. For these reasons, the MTA Board should reject this proposal.

(Regarding facts, New York City’s budget clearly shows officer head count by command, including 2,500 for the NYPD Transit Bureau. In contrast, MTA publishes broad “Public Safety” staffing. The MTA should itemize police officer counts for each agency by year.)

Thank you for your consideration.