Testimony to MTA Board on Need for Outer Borough Transit Fund Transparency


Testimony of Rachael Fauss, Reinvent Albany
to MTA Finance Committee

Re: Public Deserves to See Full List of Outerborough Fund Projects

February 24, 2020

Good afternoon, 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.

This week, the MTA Board is being asked to approve another slate of projects funded by the Outer Borough Transit Fund, a $50 million annual pot funded from the For-Hire Vehicle fee created in 2018. The Legislature and Governor have determined these projects so far in secret, without the opportunity for public comment. We understand that the MTA has no role in determining the scope of these projects, but given that there are no other public venues in which to discuss these projects, we would like to ask the MTA Board and staff to play a role in providing greater transparency of these funds and the process for their approval.

All Outer Borough Transit Fund projects by law are subject to a unanimous vote by three members of the Capital Program Review Board (CPRB) as appointed by the Governor, Senate and Assembly. Yet the CPRB has still not met publicly, and is subject to the Open Meetings Law, per an opinion from the Committee on Open Government. Further, a full list of these projects has still not been made available to the public, as requested by Reinvent Albany and 17 other groups in August 2019.

Based on the projects announced so far, we are concerned that these items are non-strategic and some, such as the bridge toll rebates, are counter to the stated goal of reducing transit deserts. Riders may be facing another fare hike next year, and at the same time the Legislature and MTA are undertaking nonstrategic financial decisions, such as these Outer Borough Projects, and the hiring of 500 new police officers. Given a climate of increasingly scarce operating funds, it is important that decisions regarding spending public funds are made strategically and publicly.

We ask that the MTA Board and staff help to shed a light on the full scope of projects by releasing the full list of Outer Borough Fund Projects, and explaining to the public exactly what the process will be for their finalization. The public deserves to understand how $50 million of public Outer Borough Transit Funds are being spent, so it can weigh in with its elected officials regarding the programs. This is in your interest as well, so that you can potentially influence future projects that are determined through the Outer Borough Transit Fund to ensure that they best serve riders.

Thank you for your consideration.