Watchdog Testimony to MTA Board Asks Gov Hochul to Provide New State Aid in Budget


Testimony to MTA Board

Re: Our Analysis Confirms MTA Fiscal Cliff is Real
Governor Must Provide New State Dedicated Operating Funds in FY 2023-24 Executive Budget

Good morning. I am Rachael Fauss, Senior Policy Advisor for Reinvent Albany. We advocate for more transparent and accountable New York government, including for authorities like the MTA.

Our new report, Ridership Down, supports the MTA’s case that it faces a “fiscal cliff” that could obliterate transit service when federal emergency COVID aid runs out. The Governor must deliver new dedicated funds in the FY 2023-24 Executive Budget to provide certainty as soon as possible to the MTA and transit riders. 

As of October 2022, MTA monthly transit ridership remains at 65% of 2019 levels. McKinsey projects ridership reaching only 80% of 2019 pre-COVID levels by the end of 2026. The MTA has lost about $200 million a month in farebox revenue compared to 2019 in 2022. Farebox revenue used to comprise 38% of the MTA budget in 2019, and it now makes up about a quarter, or 26%.

Additionally, debt remains a huge cost and it has spiked to historic highs. It now makes up 21% of recurring operating funds, whereas in 2004, it was 11%. 

Our report includes recommendations for the MTA, Governor, and Legislature:

  1. The MTA should continue implementing the MTA Open Data Law, prioritizing budget and capital plan data.
  2. The MTA Board should publicly discuss its debt affordability statements to help emphasize to the riding public how historically high debt payments are endangering transit service.
  3. The MTA should only use recurring revenues in its debt affordability metrics. Federal emergency aid should not be counted when measuring debt affordability.
  4. The MTA should report revenue and spending trends over a longer period of time, not just changes from prior financial plans or capital amendments (end the practice of “rebaselining”).
  5. Ridership projections should be updated and publicly released with each financial plan update, not on an ad hoc basis.
  6. Existing and any new NYS transit dedicated funds should be remitted directly to the MTA to protect operating funding from raids by the Governor and strengthen bond ratings. (MTA contracts and bond issuances should be subject to Comptroller oversight regardless of how funding is delivered.)
  7. The Legislature should use the Outer Borough Transit Fund to improve bus, subway, and commuter rail service, rather than provide toll discounts. 
  8. The Governor and Legislature should reject any attempts to continue the gas tax holiday, which disproportionately benefited high-income individuals and oil companies.

Thank you for your consideration.