On Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo took some first real steps toward addressing the rapid deterioration of the New York City subway system when he announced a “state of emergency” for the transit network. The executive order he signed declaring that state of emergency allowed the governor to speed up procurement for much-needed parts, and to begin a thirty-day review of the agency’s organizational structure and a sixty-day review of the system’s capital plan for equipment and maintenance.
To further demonstrate his commitment to fixing the subway, the governor also announced he was sending an additional billion dollars in funding to the MTA’s capital plan. Even Joe Lhota, the newly appointed chairman to the MTA board, was surprised by this news. Cuomo was light on details about where exactly that money would come from, but he elaborated at a press conference.
“I committed the state to an extra billion dollars in the capital plan. And I wanted to make that commitment now so the new chairman — what he’s doing is planning for capital expenditures, et cetera — knows that he can count on an additional billion on top of what he now has,” the governor said. “It won’t become a question of expenditure — he won’t be able to spend $1 billion in the next few months — but from a planning point of view, he knows he has that there and then I’ll get that done in the budget.”
In next year’s budget.
According to Governor Cuomo, the money he’s committed to the MTA doesn’t actually exist yet. He’s just making a billion-dollar promise to help fund the agency’s woefully underfunded capital plan. Whether that money actually finds its way into the budget isn’t up to Cuomo alone — that decision will be made in the kinds of backroom negotiations Albany is known for, where transit money has a history of mysteriously vanishing.
For his entire tenure, Cuomo has starved the transit system of funds, leaving massive holes in its $29.5 billion capital plan, which are then filled by the towering debt that is currently starving the system of much-needed revenue (your fare swipes go to debt service, not better service).
Cuomo’s billion-dollar promise, if it does ever materialize, would help close the funding gap in the capital plan. The state has committed $8.3 billion to the current plan, and so far appropriated $5.4 billion, with only two state budgets left before the plan ends in 2019. Getting an additional billion on top of the $2.9 billion left to go from a Republican-controlled senate (which Cuomo himself enables) will not be an easy task.
Asked specifically where this money would be coming from, Cuomo spokesman Jon Weinstein explained, “This is an additional $1 billion commitment on top of the state’s existing $8.3 billion commitment to the MTA capital plan. That will bring total commitment to $9.3 billion from the state. The governor plans to secure the additional money in next year’s budget.”
In essence, the governor hasn’t pledged any more money to fix the train system by expanding the size of the capital plan, he’s just trying to spare the MTA from some more crushing debt. It’s a debt the MTA shouldn’t have in the first place, and one built prolifically by Cuomo himself. A billion dollars sounds like a nice round figure, but when you’re this far behind in financing — the current capital plan is adding $5 billion to the MTA’s existing $36 billion debt — it’s just a drop in the bucket. And that’s if it’s actually real.