Recorded January 19, 2021
Good morning. I am Rachael Fauss, Senior Research Analyst for Reinvent Albany. We advocate for more transparent and accountable New York government, including for state authorities like the MTA.
Advocates worked hard to help the MTA win the $4B in federal aid from the December federal emergency aid package, and we support the MTA receiving billions more in federal COVID aid to address its more than $8B deficit through 2024. At the same time, the MTA’s receipt of federal aid is not a license for the Governor to raid at least $600M of MTA dedicated funding.
We thank the MTA for postponing a planned fare hike while so much about the MTA finances and service remain up in the air. We remain very concerned, however, about the state’s commitment to the MTA’s ridership given the threat of state diversions or “raids” of MTA dedicated funds in the Governor’s FY 2021-22 Executive Budget. State and MTA documents suggest withholdings to the MTA’s funds could be made permanent and become cuts. (As of this recording on January 19, 2021, the new state budget and any formal plan to address the current year’s budget gaps has not yet been released.)
In July 2020, the MTA asked for $12B in federal emergency funding, including $600M to compensate for the loss of “state subsidies.” (“Subsidies” are a euphemism for dedicated taxes, primarily Metro Mass Transportation Operating Assistance or “MMTOA” funding.) This $600M was in addition to the MTA’s spring deficit of $10.3B, which included COVID-19 revenue losses from ridership and dedicated taxes.
The most recent cash report from the State Comptroller shows New York State had nearly $30B in the bank as of the end of December 2020 — double what it had pre-pandemic in December 2019. This cash hoard has been accumulated while many millions of dollars were withheld from the MTA. Unfortunately, there has been zero public transparency about the total amount of withholdings from the MTA and other agencies. Twenty watchdog groups including Reinvent Albany asked the Division of the Budget in December 2020 to release detailed information about the withholdings so the public can see their impact on the MTA and the Legislature can fully understand the state’s actions to close its budget gaps.
The MTA has done the right thing by delaying any fare increases on riders. The Governor must now do his part by giving the MTA 100% of its dedicated tax receipts that come in its time of greatest need. The state must also release detailed information about any budget withholdings and proposed cuts.
Thank you for your consideration.