MTA Stimulus Funds Editorial

A big topic of late in the world of the MTA is what the agency should do with federal stimulus funds. Some feel the agency should plug their operating deficiencies with stimulus funds, while others feel this is not the best use of funds. Sunday’s print edition of the New York Daily News contained an editorial from NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, NYC Council Member James Vacca, & NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign Senior Attorney Gene Russianoff on the topic:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is struggling with a whopping deficit.

The agency is looking for new efficiencies and administrative overhauls, but it also has proposed three awful steps in 2010. These include $62 million in drastic service cuts; $31 million from beginning the phaseout of student MetroCards; and $40 million in savings from reduced paratransit service.

Millions of subway, bus and commuter riders are the victims, virtually lashed to the tracks as a trainload of misery bears down on them.

We have proposed several reasonable actions to prevent these proposals and are urging the MTA to use federal stimulus funds and other operating money to prevent service cuts this year.

Here’s what should be done:

• Use up to $121 million in federal stimulus funds for service in 2010. Federal law permits up to 10% of its stimulus funds to be spent on operations. Transit systems around the country – including Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle and St. Louis – are facing the same financial crises and are using stimulus dollars.

• Reprogram for service up to $50 million in operating funds. Right now, the MTA is planning to spend $50 million in operating funds on capital projects. At a time when the operating budget is badly pinched, it makes no sense for the MTA to direct operating funds to capital and worsen service cuts.

It’s just not correct to say the first two steps are taking transit capital dollars to pay for operations, as the MTA has argued.

Federal law specifically allows a small portion of transportation stimulus money to pay to keep the system running. Congress and President Obama saw it was in the national interest to help maintain service in this troubled economy. Transit agencies around the country are using this option to maintain vital service and jobs.
There is a way out. The MTA can use the authority Congress gave it to spend federal stimulus funds for service. This temporary measure will buy the MTA a year to begin tackling the real and lasting reforms Chairman Jay Walder has already laid out in his recent report, “Making Every Dollar Count.” With our plan, the agency can act in the interest of the riding public, untie them from the tracks, and save them from these devastating cuts.

Click here to read the complete editorial.

The 3 of them make a compelling case for the call of using a block of stimulus funds to fix holes in the MTA’s financial budget. However I am not sure this is the right way to go about doing things. As we saw during the whole battle over the “doomsday scenario“, & subsequent “rescue package“, politicians are always looking for quick fixes.

Using money tailored for future capital projects seems like a bad idea from where I sit. Although the argument can be made that a fiscally healthy MTA in the current day is just as important as a better developed system in the future, I worry about politicians not understanding what is needed for both to become a reality.

It seems anytime they can go for the quick fix to plug holes at the risk of the future they will. When the future becomes the present, the cycle repeats itself & so the story goes. What they need to understand is that going the quick fix route whether it be stimulus funds or anything else is not what they should be concerned with. They need to find a way to pony up the city & state’s fair share of funding on a regular basis. This is the real goal that should be on their minds today, tomorrow, & forever.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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