Financial viability in dealing with a potential New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) $12-billion deficit is a four-way dance between farebox revenue, New York City, New York state and Washington, D.C.
There are $12 billion worth of Federal Transit Administration funding projects and programs in active open grants. The MTA has never initiated and completed a forensic audit to determine unspent available balances. The FTA issued guidance on March 13 that gave all transit agencies, including the MTA, permission for reallocation of federal funding from capital projects in existing grants to reprogram these funds toward COVID-19 expenses.
The FTA made available $1.4 billion worth of annual formula funding in 2020. The MTA can program these funds toward COVID-19 expenses. MTA has already received $3.9 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act COVID-19 funding.
On October 1, an additional $1.5 billion in 2021 funds will become available. (This assumes Congress completes passage of a transportation funding bill on time for a change and sends it to the President that he can sign it). The MTA can program these funds toward covering deficits as a result of COVID-19.
A recent NYC Citizens Budget Commission report confirms that the MTA $51 billion 2020 - 2024 Capital Plan is no longer financially feasible.
Within this plan, there is $4 billion of local funding for the $6.9 billion Second Avenue Subway Phase Two, $1.5 billion for the Bronx East Metro North Penn Station Access, tens of millions for the 1% Arts in Transit capital projects expenditure requirement and several hundred million on outside consultants. Why not use in-house resources instead of outside consultants? There is also millions for planning feasibility studies to look at potential system expansion projects that we will probably never see in our lifetime. All combined could provide the MTA with $6 billion more toward COVID-19.
It is arrogant for the MTA to assume it can receive an additional $12 billion in federal emergency funds and up to $3.5 billion under a Federal Transit Administration Full Funding Grant Agreement to pay for the $6.9 billion Second Avenue Subway Phase 2 within the same time period. When will the MTA decide what its priorities are for additional Federal Transit Administration funding?
Uncle Sam has a $26.5 trillion dollar long-term debt. It will grow $1 trillion annually until 2030. Who will bail out Washington? Everyone including Uncle Sam can't continue spending money we don't have. Millions of New Yorkers make due with significant income loss. The MTA needs to do likewise. Riders and Washington have already done their part in providing billions to the MTA. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo must step up to the plate and contribute their fair share, as well.
Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York City Transit bus and subway, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, MTA Bus and NYC Department of Transportation.