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I won’t let New Yorkers get taken for a ride

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO | 8/2/2017, 1:02 p.m.
The residents of Harlem have every right to be furious about the state of the subways. This crisis needs immediate ...
Bill de Blasio Bill Moore photo

The residents of Harlem have every right to be furious about the state of the subways. This crisis needs immediate attention. As mayor, I am doing all I can to help the MTA (which runs the subways) and the State of New York (which runs the MTA) fulfill their responsibilities and address this painful situation. 

But what I will never do is allow New York City taxpayers to be taken for a ride. The people of this city already pay more than our fair share when it comes to funding the state agency that runs the subways, and we receive less in return than we pay out. In the face of declining service, the people of Harlem and their neighbors citywide deserve better than being handed a new bill. 

There are long-term issues that need to be worked out, but the good news is that the MTA chairman, Joe Lhota, has announced a reasonable and workable plan that is a first step to tackling the delays that are driving straphangers crazy. The bad news is that the chairman is asking city taxpayers to foot half of the estimated cost, more than $800 million.

 The City of New York is here today to support the MTA’s plan in any appropriate way, from added NYPD enforcement of crime and littering, to more EMTs to treat sick passengers quickly, to Homeless Services staff to help people out of stations and into shelters. City taxpayers will bear those costs and we are ready to meet that responsibility.

 But I cannot in good conscience stand by while hardworking city residents are asked to spend more than $400 million on what is clearly a state responsibility. Not only do I have a responsibility to be prudent with city finances at a moment when we face grave uncertainty in Washington, but also the city already pays more than its share to fund the MTA.

 Remember, New York City pays two-thirds of the MTA’s annual budget, more than $10 billion a year in total. That includes fares, taxes and tolls, as well as support from city government to the MTA of $1.6 billion annually. But the MTA spends just $4 for every New York City subway and bus ride, while spending a whopping $19 per suburban commuter-train ride on the Long Island Railroad and Metro North.

Just two years ago, the city gave the MTA an additional $2.5 billion in capital funding, not because we were required to, but as a good-faith investment in our shared future.

Yet, by chairman Lhota’s own admission, the MTA hasn’t done a good job managing the money it already has. Just $75 million of the city’s recent contribution to the MTA has been used so far. With the subways floundering, the governor recently proposed spending $200 million on decorative lights for bridges. Meanwhile, since 2011, the governor has taken $456 million of MTA money and spent it elsewhere.

 The numbers here might be big, but the math is pretty straightforward. City residents already shoulder more than our share of the burden for funding the state-run MTA. The MTA has plenty of cash on hand, including billions the city gave it a few years ago that it hasn’t even spent. The governor has been using the MTA as a piggy bank.

New York City straphangers are smart people. They understand that the state runs the MTA, and if the state took money out of the MTA, the state should put it back. They understand that we need money to go to the MTA more than we need lights on bridges. They understand that the current subway crisis should not be used to extract more money from them.