Skelos to Lhota: Republicans are cutting M.T.A. funding out of concern about debt

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Dean Skelos (New York NOW, via flickr)
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In a letter sent today to M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota, majority leader Dean Skelos says the Senate's move to reduce the authority's budget is rooted in concern about the M.T.A.'s "staggering" debt-load.

Skelos is responding to a letter Lhota sent him two days ago protesting the Senate's proposed $770 million cut to the beleaguered authority's capital fund, and its opposition to raising the M.T.A.'s bonding cap by $7 billion, something Lhota says is critical to completing projects like East Side Access and the current phase of the Second Avenue subway.

Transit advocates are going to Albany on Tuesday to lobby legislators for more M.T.A. funding, though budget negotiations may have wrapped up by then.

If this letter is any indication, Skelos is not ready to budge.

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"As you know, this 20 percent bonding increase would result in the M.T.A. being authorized to bond a total of nearly $42 billion," he wrote, in a letter co-signed by Senate Transportation Committee chairman Charles Fuschillo and Bay Ridge Republican Marty Golden, a member of the M.T.A. Capital Program Review Board.

"Let us assure you that the Senate understands the critical role the M.T.A. plays in our State's economy and supports capital investment in the M.T.A. system ... That is why our budget resolution included nearly $4 billion in operating aid to the M.T.A., a nearly 5 percent increase from the prior year's total.

"However, allowing a staggering $42 billion bonding debt level is of great concern, especially at the same time the M.T.A. has many unresolved issues in its financial plan."

One of those issues, as Skelos pointed out, is the ongoing contract negotiations between the Transport Workers Union and Lhota. The authority's existing financial plan assumes the union will agree to a three-year wage freeze.

The M.T.A. had no immediate comment.