NYC Independent Budget Office: Governor Cuomo’s MTA Funding Plan Is Shrouded in Ambiguity

New York City’s widely-respected Independent Budget Office (IBO) has weighed in on the funding plan for the MTA capital program offered in Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget, and the verdict is not good.

Despite a record commitment of funds, the key points of concern include the fact that the governor

  1. doesn’t specify the source of funds
  2. doesn’t specify the timeline for flow of funds, and
  3. leaves the door wide open for the state to delay its contribution substantially—until 2025-2026 (6 years after the technical end of the capital plan) or the completion of the program, “which could conceivably be even later.”

The IBO concludes its report with disturbing “possible implications,” including costly delays for capital projects. In the event the state is slow with it’s contribution, the MTA may experience delays getting approval from the state budget director for needed bond issuances. And there could be further delays if the MTA can’t raise the required match for federal dollars (which is usually covered by state funds).

The IBO also raises the the looming dilemma of the next capital plan:

There is a danger that the city and state might forgo making a contribution to the 2020-2024 program, with the argument that they are already providing substantial—albeit delayed—support to the MTA.

And of course there’s politics, an ever-present consideration, though often hidden in the background. Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo are up for reelection in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

MTA “5-year Capital Plans” are really a misnomer. Given the lengthy time period for many of the capital projects undertaken by the MTA, projects more often than not stretch across several capital plans, as the IBO has previously pointed out. This fact has been received with considerable consternation in Albany, and is usually punted into the bucket of “inefficiency.” But there is a logical solution, which Governor Cuomo should act upon if he is truly committed to pulling the MTA out of the perennial political football game: do MTA capital planning on a 10-year basis instead of a 5-year basis.

In the meantime, armed with the concerns raised by this independent analysis, all eyes are now on the Assembly and the Senate to see how effectively they can push back on the governor’s gamesmanship.

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