10:55 am Mar. 26, 2012
The State Senate Republicans backed down last night from a proposal to cut funding for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, agreeing to a deal with Governor Andrew Cuomo that will allow the authority's capital program to progress as planned.
It's unclear at this point what, if anything, they got in return.
But taken on its own, the reported agreement is good news, in that progress won't be interrupted (for lack of funding, at least) on the Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access and an array of smaller-scale improvements that keep the subway system in decent repair and capable of serving its ridership reasonably well.
Essentially, what happened is that the M.T.A. needed another $13 billion to fund the remaining three years of the five-year, $22.2 billion capital program that began in 2010. And so the M.T.A. submitted a request to increase its bonding cap, in this case by $7 billion, to fund the remaining three years of that plan.
Such requests are a routine part of the capital program funding process.
“The tradition is every time they approve a capital program, they approve a bond increase,” said Hope Cohen, associate director of the Regional Plan Association's Center for Urban Innovation.
The Senate Republicans, dominated by a bloc of suburban legislators who would very much like to make the transit-dedicated payroll mobility tax go away, initially opposed granting the bonding cap increase, and also proposed slashing $770 million in direct state funding for the M.T.A.'s capital program. They previously succeeded in getting the governor to go along with a reduction to the tax, to the chagrin of transit advocates.
Their agreement to back off the threat to block the bond increase allows the M.T.A. to sell $7 billion more in government-backed bonds. Most of the rest of the $13.1 billion is made up of federal funds.
On Friday, State Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat, told me she was sure the Republican threats were just a bluff in any case, or an attempt to gain leverage to force concessions elsewhere.
"It’s inconceivable in my opinion that a budget bill will actually come to the floor of either house that doesn’t fund the M.T.A. capital plan and doesn’t allow them the power to go back to the bond market," she said. "It was a one-house statement by the Republicans."
An unidentified source told the Daily News in its report on the deal, “This represents the greatest commitment to the MTA from a governor in recent history."
We'll see. The governor got off to an indifferent start on transportation issues before making what has so far been a promising-looking appointment of former deputy mayor Joe Lhota to head the authority.
But at the very least, with this deal, the governor and the legislature seem to have staved off what would have been an eminently unnecessary crisis for the city and the region whose economy depends on it.
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