Comptroller says the M.T.A. left millions lying around

The Herald Square subway station. (t_a_i_s via Flickr)
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Today, state comptroller Tom DiNapoli faulted the M.T.A. for letting more than $90 million just sit there when, "in these tough times, every dollar counts.”

“Our auditors identified several ways in which the M.T.A. could vastly improve how it manages its cash and investments," said the comptroller, in a statement. "The M.T.A. must do better."

In an audit released today (and available here), the comptroller's office concluded that in the period between January 2008 and March 2011, the M.T.A. had $92.1 million in various bank accounts and investment funds that could have been put to better use.

For example, the M.T.A. maintains something called the "TBTA Necessary Reconstruction Reserve Fund" so that it can underwrite up to four months of capital projects in the event the authority can't sell bonds.

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The M.T.A. estimates that it needs to keep $160 million in that fund, but it actually contained $216.3 million, or an extra $56.3 million, according to the audit.

Similarly, the M.T.A. maintains a "Commuter Forward Energy Contract Fund" to moderate the impact of changing energy costs.

DiNapoli's audit concluded the fund had $2.8 million in it that could have been applied elsewhere.

A recent Moody's report was generally favorable towards the M.T.A.'s budgeting practices, and $92 million is a relatively small portion of the M.T.A.'s $13 billion operating budget, and of its $24 billion five-year capital plan.

Nevertheless, that amount of money can have a sizable impact on service.

Remember those devastating 2010 M.T.A. service cuts? The M.T.A. carried them out in the name of saving $93 million, about the same amount of money at issue in this audit.

In a statement, M.T.A. spokesman Adam Lisberg defended the authority's budgeting procedures and also said, basically, the authority was already aware of the issues raised by before the comptroller and is working on resolving them.

Here's the authority's statement in full:

The M.T.A. rigorously monitors its funds, balances and investments. We invest to achieve maximum returns while protecting the safety of our principal, and we maintain adequate balances at all times.  

The Office of the State Comptroller has questioned whether the M.T.A. has excess funds in several accounts, particularly a Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority reserve fund. Monies in this account are essential to maintaining our credit rating, and are available in the event of emergencies such as Superstorm Sandy.  

The M.T.A. is in the process of consolidating our Treasury functions M.T.A.-wide to achieve greater efficiencies and cost savings, a process that was underway before the Office of the State Controller prepared its findings. As a result, we expect numerous accounts will be closed or consolidated. We will work closely with the Office of the State Comptroller to update them on the effectiveness of our strategies.