Testimony: Without Federal Aid, MTA Service Cuts Would Devastate Riders; Gov Cuomo Needs to Respect Dedicated Tax Funds


Testimony of Rachael Fauss, Reinvent Albany to MTA Board>

Recorded July 20, 2020

Re: Federal Government Must Deliver Emergency Aid to MTA, Approve Congestion Pricing and
Governor Cuomo Must Respect MTA Dedicated Funds

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.

First, we would like to thank the staff of the MTA for their work and partnership in the effort to secure desperately needed federal funding. We specifically thank Janno Lieber and his team for their important guidance. We also would like to recognize Bob Foran for effectively conveying to the public how broke the MTA really is, including in an excellent op-ed in Bloomberg on July 8th.

Reinvent Albany has been working with the MTA and numerous MTA stakeholders to make the case for federal support to New York’s congressional delegation. We want the MTA and the New York delegation to make clear that federal aid for the MTA is good for all of America. Our June report on MTA spending shows that $8B was paid to vendors in 46 states outside of New York from 2011-2018. This spending by New York state’s MTA creates American jobs: a point we and the Daily News editorial board drove home in a July 11th op-ed and editorial.

The state of the MTA’s finances verges on the catastrophic. The MTA is in far worse shape than either the state or city, with a $3.9B deficit this year and $6.6B deficit projected for 2021. Federal funding to plug these gaps is essential. The MTA’s only alternatives to a huge infusion of federal aid are all terrible. The MTA can massively cut service or borrow enormous amounts to pay for operations in the hope that a miracle will happen. Cutting service or raising fares during an economic recession when 1 million New Yorkers have lost their jobs would be devastating. Borrowing for operating costs is simply unsustainable, and will kick the MTA’s financial problems down the road, creating even greater problems in the future.

We urge the MTA to keep working hard to obtain federal approval of congestion pricing, which we strongly support. The MTA will need the $15B generated to maintain the system and continue pre-pandemic service restoration.

Lastly, we remain deeply concerned about the potential diversion of the Mass Transportation Operating Assistance Fund (MTOA), which is dedicated to transit systems across the state. The MTOA account has $900M in it that has not been disbursed, of which about 80% is dedicated to the MTA. Governor Cuomo has threatened a 20% cut to state funding, which by our reckoning would amount to about $150M diverted from the MTA — what we would call a “raid.”

We ask Governor Cuomo to respect the intent of dedicated funds by giving the MTA every dollar that has come in, and not make any reductions through any upcoming state budget adjustments. Dedicated funds are intended solely for the MTA in good times and bad, and are especially important in this time of great need. Thank you for your consideration.