There are other solutions for MTA instead of asking for an additional $3.9 billion from Washington. The MTA has placed their $51 billion 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan on hold due to funding assumptions which were never realistic. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the $51 billion funding assumptions were never realistic. Due to the economic recession as a result of Covid-19, many billions anticipated from congestion pricing, real estate transfer, internet sales, along with other taxes, will be lost. This new April $3.9 billion bailout request is on top of $3.8 billion emergency COVID-19 funding that Uncle Sam made available on March 25th. In May, the MTA said that they would need $10.4 billion before the end of 2021. How many billions more will the MTA ask Washington for in the coming months? Why isn’t MTA asking the city or state for additional support?
Does the MTA have a cash flow plan for spending the original $3.8 billion? How long will these funds last until fully expended? The original request was based on a six-month projection of financial shortfalls. Significant farebox revenue losses averaging $125 million per week began in March. Why wouldn’t the initial $3.8 billion in emergency COVID-19 funding last until August or later in the year before being totally spent? Can’t any potential additional bailouts wait until the next federal budget for fiscal year 2021 starting October 1st, 2020 is adopted?
Washington has already accumulated $23 trillion in long term debt. With a $4.8 trillion annual budget, this debt was anticipated to grow by $1 trillion annually for years to come prior to the Corona Virus. The federal government has already provided $3 trillion in COVID-19 funding including $3.8 billion to the MTA. Now, the MTA wants a second $3.9 billion and a third which combined total $10.4 billion. Every village, town, county, city and state along with many private sector businesses are looking toward Washington for additional financial assistance. Just who is going to bail out Uncle Sam to pay for this? All of this will be paid for with more borrowed funds increasing our national debt once again. All levels of government and the private sector must also make difficult financial decisions on how to use existing resources. Americans prioritize their own family budgets. They make the difficult choices in how existing resources will be spent today and what can wait till later.
The MTA needs to look within its own resources to find $3.9 billion in savings rather than additional aid from Washington. Uncle Sam already provides $1.4 billion in annual assistance under Federal Transit Administration grants. The MTA has $12 billion worth of FTA funding for projects and programs in active grants. What is the current balance of unspent funds? Can any of these remaining dollars be reprogrammed to support unanticipated COVID-19 expenses? Has the MTA submitted grants to access $1.4 billion in FTA formula non-COVID-19 funding available in federal fiscal year 2020?
The MTA should postpone the $6.9 billion Second Avenue Subway Phase Two and $1.5 billion for the Bronx East Metro North Access to Penn Station until the next 2025 – 2029 Five Year Capital Program. Suspending the 1% Arts in Transit expenditure requirement for capital projects frees up millions. Stop wasting several hundred million on outside consultants. Use in house resources instead. End spending millions on transportation feasibility studies for future system expansion projects that will never happen in our lifetime. Time for the MTA to match Washington dollar for dollar. Every COVID-19 federal dollar should be matched by a corresponding cut to the $51 billion Capital Plan. Millions of Americans are making do with significant income loss. MTA needs to do the same. The MTA must have some financial skin in the game as well.
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate historian and writer who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit bus and subway, Staten Island Rail Road, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ.