3:12 pm Jan. 5, 2012
At a press conference this afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg effectively washed his hands of any further responsibility for figuring out how to finance the M.T.A., saying he doesn't want to serve as an impediment to Andrew Cuomo and whatever efforts the governor may make to stabilize the finances of the authority upon which the city's, and by extension the state's, economy relies.
"We gave it our best shot," said the mayor, referring to his second-term effort to implement a congestion-pricing scheme in Manhattan, on which Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver ultimately declined to let the Assembly vote. "We came up with an idea. We worked very hard to get every good-government group behind it, every union behind it, the public behind it, every newspaper behind it, and then when it got to Albany, it didn’t get passed. So I think at this point it behooves us to just stay out of it."
The mayor made his comments on Thursday, a couple of days after the M.T.A.'s former chairman, Jay Walder, criticized the state of the authority from his better-paid position as the head of Hong Kong's well-funded mass transit system.
“I think we have a very different situation here,” Walder reportedly said. “We have a first-class railway. We have a sustainable financial model that is supporting that railway. And I think the people of Hong Kong are benefiting tremendously from what we have.”
“I don’t think it’s the same situation as what you have in New York," he added.
The M.T.A. relies on a complicated and volatile financing structure that depends on the state of the economy and the direction of political winds in Albany. The authority faces a nearly $10 billion gap in its five-year capital plan, and is planning to add nearly $15 billion to its already sizable debt burden.
Also, as part of the governor's much-remarked, end-of-year deal with the legislature, he gave Senate Republicans a more than $300 million payroll-mobility-tax cut to take home to their suburban constituents, who are generally hostile to paying for a mass transit system that they believe does not directly benefit them. Revenue from the payroll mobility tax is dedicated to transportation and composes an estimated 14 percent of the M.T.A.'s operating revenue. The governor's plan stipulates that the state will make good on lost revenue out of general funds, though transit advocates aren't particularly inclined to believe him.
Walder was a favorite of the mayor, but he was essentially ignored by the new Cuomo administration before he finally departed for Asia this past fall. Asked to comment on Walder's remarks, the mayor essentially agreed with him, albeit with some caveats.
"Keep in mind, it’s all relative," said the mayor. "When I came to New York in 1966, the subway cars were covered in graffiti, they broke down all the time, they had no signalling."
"Having said that," he continued, "if you compare today’s M.T.A. system here to modern M.T.A. systems, and I have been on the Hong Kong system, it’s an order of magnitude more modern, and that’s what we have to do."
By "we," Bloomberg, whose third term expires at the end of next year, really meant "they."
"It’s a state problem," he said. "They’ve got to find the monies."
The mayor later added that the state of the M.T.A. is "hurting our economy."
"That’s where I think the governor really can do something here," he said. "But he’s got to get the legislature together and find funding for the M.T.A. And I’ll be happy to help him, but I certainly don’t want to get in the ways of, be an impediment to him doing this."
The mayor made his comments during a question-and-answer session following his unveiling of the city's new Public Safety Answering Center, which for the first time in city history, puts emergency dispatchers for the police and fire departments, and the emergency medical service, on one floor, in one building. A second such center is now under construction in the Bronx.
The overall project, costing a combined $2.1 billion, should enhance the city's ability to respond quickly to the more than 11 million emergency calls it fields every year. The new systems can also handle 50,000 emergency calls per hour, more than nine times the peak volume during September 11, and enable dispatchers to immediately locate callers on a map. The two centers, one in downtown Brooklyn, the other scheduled to be completed in the Bronx in 2015, also gives the city meaningful redundancies, should one of the center's be taken out of service in an emergency. The new call centers result from a 2003 mayoral task force charged with analyzing the city's operational vulnerabilities after that year's summer blackout.
"If you were to pick up the phone and call and say, 'Somebody’s holding me up, I just fell down the stairs and broke a leg, and by the way there’s a fire,' one call will get you the kind of response that you need," said the mayor.
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