Crain’s New York Business, March 14, 2017
Every weekday, 8 million commuters rely on New York’s mass-transit network, driving an economy worth billions of dollars to the state. Yet despite its vital importance, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been the frequent target of underfunding, budget raids and broken promises from state government.
This year is no different. Even in the face of subways’ frequent overcrowding and growing delays, the executive budget proposed a 21% decrease in the payroll mobility tax replacement funds—a cut of $65 million to the MTA.
The payroll mobility tax, originally passed in 2009 to provide much needed funding to the transit system, was modified in 2011 when our elected leaders voted to exempt many small businesses. Recognizing, however, that the tax was a core source of MTA revenue, a promise was made at the same time to replace any funds lost by the change.
Every year since, just over $300 million has been appropriated to keep the funding level. Until now.
Despite having included the funding in its budget projections for years, the MTA now says that it does not need the money. While it might seem shocking that the MTA doesn’t care about losing $65 million, it’s less surprising when considering that the agency is beholden to Albany politics. But to the average New York transit rider it’s fairly obvious that this budget proposal has gone off the rails.
The MTA needs the funding now more than ever. Transit service continues to deteriorate: delays have increased, crowding is worse, trains are breaking down more frequently and riders are starting to look to Uber and other alternatives. Keeping funding commitments to the MTA so it can address these alarming trends should be an obvious priority.
Albany’s legislators now have the opportunity to make this right. As the budget is negotiated, the state must uphold the promise and restore the funding to the MTA.
A promise should be a promise, even if it is made in Albany.
John Raskin is the executive director Riders Alliance, Denise Richardson is the executive director of the General Contractors Association of New York, and Carlo Scissura is the president and CEO of the New York Building Congress.