There are other solutions to for the MTA asking for 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 that are no longer realistic . This new bailout request from the federal government is on top of the $3.8 billion emergency COVID-19 funding that Uncle Sam just made available on March 25th. How long will it take for the MTA to apply for and actually spend the $3.8 billion under future Federal Transit Administration grants? Based upon past history for previous Federal Transit Administration 9/11, 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and 2012 Hurricane Sandy Relief and Resiliency supplemental emergency appropriations, it will take many years. Have they presented to the FTA a list of eligable expenses for reimbursement as part of a grant application? Do they even have a cash flow plan to spend these funds once a grant is approved?
There is no indication that they have ever taken advantage of the FTA expanded eligibility of federal assistance available under FTA’s Emergency Relief Program to help transit agencies respond to COVID-19. This includes allowing transit providers such as the MTA to use previous federal formula funds for emergency-related capital and operating expenses. It also raises the federal share of those expenses from 80 percent to 100 percent. There is a billion or more in available funding within $12 billion in existing FTA grants that could be used under this option. Has the MTA taken advantage of this funding opportunity. There is also over $1 billion available in federal fiscal year 2020 formula funds that have not yet been applied for.
Governor Cuomo included in the approved state budget a provision which amends the MTA’s $15 billion Congestion Toll Mitigation Revenue “Lock Box.” This provision was originally included to insure that all proceeds would be used to help fund the MTAs new $51 billion Capital Plan. Now these funds can be used against any future deficits to the MTA’s annual $17 billion operating expense budget. Language buried in the state budget also allows $10 billion in real estate mansion and internet sales tax revenue to be used for operating rather than capital expenses. Combined these total $25 billion of the $51 billion Capital Plan funding
The MTA budgeted $4 billion of local funding within the $32 billion 2015 – 2019 & $51 billion 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plans to be used toward the $6.9 billion Second Avenue Subway Phase Two. This project benefits a handful of the 5 million daily transit riders. There is also $1.5 billion for the Bronx East Metro North Access to Penn Station. Suspending the 1% Arts in Transit expenditure requirement for capital projects could free up millions. Stop wasting several hundred millions on outside consultants when in house resources are available to do the same work. All combined could save the MTA almost $6 billion.
Diogenes is looking for a brave MTA Board member or elected official to have the courage to speak up. It is time for the MTA to match Washington dollar for dollar. Every COVID-19 federal dollar should be matched by a corresponding dollar cut to the $51 billion 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan. Uncle Sam has a $23 trillion dollar long term debt. It was previously projected to grow by another $1 trillion per year until 2030. We just added another $2 trillion on top of that. Who is going to bail out Washington? Everyone can’t continue spending money we don’t have. Millions of Americans are making due with significant loss of income. The MTA must learn to do the same.
Larry Penner is a transportation historian, writer and advocate 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 and NJ.