Mildly good news for the M.T.A., if not for its customers
The M.T.A. has money troubles, but not as many as before, according to a report issued Wednesday morning by New York State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
“Ridership is rising and the M.T.A.’s finances are stabilizing, but there are areas of concern,” said DiNapoli, in a statement.
His litany of concerns?
“The pace of the economic recovery, litigation challenging the constitutionality of the payroll mobility tax, collective bargaining and funding for the next capital program could all affect the budget," he said.
Also: "Fare and toll hikes continue to outpace inflation, placing a burden on working men and women across the metropolitan region.”
In short, things are looking up for the financially starved orphan of a transportation agency, but only a little, much like the economy, on which so much of the M.T.A.'s revenue streams depends.
Ridership on the M.T.A.'s subways continues to grow, last year hitting 1.64 billion riders, the most since 1950.
Thanks to improving economic conditions, the M.T.A. also expects revenue derived from real estate transactions to grow.
The flip side is that the burden on riders is growing very quickly. If the fare and toll hikes go into effect, as they are expected to, in 2013 and 2015, fares and tolls will have jumped 35 percent since 2007, much higher, obviously, than the expected inflation rate.
The payroll mobility tax, which levies a tax on many employer payrolls in the 12-county region served by the M.T.A., is expected to garner $1.5 billion this year for the M.T.A., and almost $1.8 billion by 2016, assuming the courts don't uphold a recent ruling striking it down.
The M.T.A.s "health and welfare" costs are projected to jump to $1.2 billion by 2016. Pension contributions are also going up.
And the M.T.A. is counting on getting three "net-zero" years in its negotiations with the Transport Workers Union, which is not on board with that.
And then there's the question of debt.
For the existing capital program, which ends in 2014, the M.T.A. is on track to borrow $14.8 billion, or 60 percent of the total plan.
And then there's the next five-year program, will cost at least $20 billion, as per DiNapoli. It's unclear how the M.T.A. plans to fund that. Presumably, there will be yet more debt.
The M.T.A.'s existing debt load is expected to hit $31.8 billion by the end of this year.
In a statement, M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota said the report, "recognizes the significant financial challenges the M.T.A. faces in the near term, the aggressive steps we have taken to meet them, and our ongoing efforts to address longer-term challenges, including identifying funding sources for our 2015-2019 Capital Program.”
Here's a graphic, from the comptroller, illustrating relative debt levels over time: