ABO Report Validates Transparency Concerns Regarding EFC Loan to Thruway Authority

ABO reportWith the recent release of the New York State Thruway Authority’s proposed budget, which includes a funding deficit of $305 million and $922 million in borrowing for the Tappan Zee replacement project, this is as good a time as any to revisit last month’s report detailing concerns about the approval of the Clean Water Funds loan to the Thruway Authority.

Public authorities like the New York State Thruway Authority or the Metropolitan Transportation Authority should be familiar to regular MTR readers, but readers may be surprised to know that there are 45 state public authorities, not to mention the even more numerous local public authorities, industrial development agencies and local development corporations. As Assemblyman Richard Brodsky said in 2009, “The lives of New Yorkers are impacted by the operations of state authorities to an infinitely greater extent than they are by the departments of state government”yet little is known about what they do or how they operate. Brodsky made that statement in support of legislation he sponsored that year that instituted a new fiduciary duty for authority board members and also created the Authorities Budget Office (ABO).

One of the many authorities, is the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) which, with the Department of Environmental Conservation, jointly administers the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a fund that provides low-interest rate financing to municipalities to construct water quality protection projects such as sewers and wastewater treatment facilities. Although those purposes have no relation to bridge construction, on June 16, Governor Cuomo announced the EFC had decided to make $511.45 million in “low-cost” loans to the Thruway Authority for the New NY Bridge project. The problem with this announcement is that the EFC Board had not yet acted on the loans, but rather met ten days later, officially voting on the $511 million loans on June 26. But this official decision was ten days after the Governor’s announcement, creating a timing problem for the Board’s decision.

This problem, as well as other red flags, led several organizations, including Tri-State, to request an ABO investigation of the loan process. The results of the investigation were released last week, in which the ABO found:

  • Instances where the EFC Board’s actions did not meet the standards required by the state’s fiduciary duty law;
  • The EFC Board did not comply with Open Meetings Law requirements; of particular concern was the Board’s unwarranted use of executive sessions under Section 105 of that law; and
  • The EFC Board failed to ensure that the EFC complied with 40 CFR 35.3150 when it did not question why the project was added to the Intended Use Plan (IUP) on June 11, 2014 and why the public was denied a comment period.

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Can the Reinvention Commission Recommendations Unite Our Fractured Regional Transit System?

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 7.48.16 PMJust in time to feast on before the Thanksgiving holiday, the final report of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Transportation Reinvention Commission was released today, identifying seven key strategies to help the agency plan, prepare for and fund the next 100 years of transit investments.

While various outlets will focus on the funding, customer service and project delivery overhauls, there are key recommendations that acknowledge the interconnectedness of the MTA with transit systems and facilities in the tri-state region, a region where transit agencies and authorities operate independently of one another otheroften in a vacuum. Given Tri-State’s regional role and our seat at the Reinvention Commission roundtable, we’ve highlighted the recommendations from the report that have implications for all beneficiaries of the MTA’s bus, subway and rail systems in the agency’s three state service territory:

Prioritize new fare media to facilitate seamless travel across the region. [Strategy Three, p.37]
With commuters from all three states using multiple transportation modes and systems, integrating fare media across various agenciesMTA, NJ Transit, PATH, NICE, Bee-Line, Tappan Zee Express, etc.would provide seamless connectivity and ease of transfer.

Increase connectivity between MTA and other regional transportation providers. [Strategy Four, p. 42]
The MTA network operates in a region with other transit agencies and facilities, yet transit planning is often siloed within state and agency jurisdictions. This often leads to fractured approaches to transit needs that impact more than one agency (e.g. capacity/infrastructure constraints at Penn Station; outdated Trans-Hudson tunnels, terminals and tracks)

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$1 Billion and Counting: New York’s Non-MTA Transit Capital Needs

NYPTA's New Report Identifies $1 billion in capital needs for non-MTA transit

NYPTA’s New Report Identifies $1 billion in capital needs for non-MTA transit

Yesterday, the New York Public Transit Association (NYPTA) released their report “Five Year Capital Program for Upstate and Downstate Transit” which outlines the critical capital investment needs for non-MTA urban transit systems across the state. While the MTA first issued a multi-year capital program more than 30 years ago, NYPTA’s report represents the first ever comprehensive attempt to develop a five-year capital plan for New York’s non-MTA systems.

And the need is substantial. There are more than 100 systems covering nearly every county in the state, and carrying over 550,000 passengers each and every day. Yet, the projected capital deficit is $577 million. Making matters worse, these system are using capital funds for operations, accelerating the wear and tear on facilities and equipment. The lack of capital investment and dedicated capital and operating funding streams over the years has led to outdated systems that break down, disrupt service and incur higher costs when transit providers attempt to regain a state of good repair. Unfortunately, existing revenues are projected to cover just 43 percent of these identified capital needs.

The report details $1 billion in upcoming infrastructure needs between 2015-2019, with over 80 percent of the identified need going solely to repair and replace existing core system assets. The remaining 20 percent is slated for expansions and upgrades, such as bus rapid transit, to accommodate record transit ridership—for example, the report notes that ridership is up seven percent in the Capital District.

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New Jersey Groups Call for Permanent Fix to State Transportation Problems

The Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee will hold its fourth and final special hearing regarding the state’s Transportation Trust Fund on Thursday morning as part of the 99th Annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference, now underway in Atlantic City.

Navigating the transportation funding debate is complicated. While the public debate has focused primarily on increasing taxes and creating additional revenue streams, this is only part of the discussion. Clear and concise answers to some of the most complex questions regarding bonding, debt, current and future transportation projects are essential to an informed conversation by all stakeholders from the bus rider to the state’s transportation commissioner.

With skepticism and frustration regarding the condition of the state’s transportation assets and systems, a clear explanation of the accounting behind the soon-to-be bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund is required.

For these reasons, Tri-State, along with New Jersey FutureRegional Plan Association (RPA), New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) New Jersey State Joint Council today released a list of questions to guide a transparent and informed discussion about transportation funding between state lawmakers and the public:

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Can We Try to Solve New Jersey’s Transportation Funding Crisis Now?

Assemblyman John Wisniewski proposed

Assemblyman John Wisniewski proposed a bill which would increase New Jersey’s gas tax by at least 25 cents. | Photo: Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger

The election is over, so the time to buckle down and focus on solving New Jersey’s transportation funding crisis has arrived.

The problem is abundantly clear: Governor Christie’s five-year transportation capital plan failed, and will run dry a year early, which will leave a huge void if a solution is not in place by July 1, 2015, the beginning of fiscal year 2016.

Earlier this fall, to get a dialog going between advocates, legislators and interest groups on how to resolve the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) crisis, the Assembly Transportation Committee held three special hearings in Montclair, Piscataway and Camden. A fourth and final hearing will be held next week in Atlantic City during the annual NJ League of Municipalities Convention.

There are a number of items “on the table” aimed at restoring the solvency of the TTF. The most recent addition to the menu of items is bill A3886, proposed for introduction by Assemblyman John Wisniewski. A3886 would increase the gas tax by at least 25 cents, adding $1.25 billion to the $535 million generated annually by the current 14.5 cents per gallon gas tax. This is a step in the right direction and will at least help cover the roughly $1.1 billion in annual debt payments projected out to 2041.

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Election 2014: It’s Not All Bad News

Governor Dan Malloy of Connecticut won a close race for reelection. | Image: ctnews.com

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, a proponent of transit-oriented development and improved rail service, won a close race for reelection. | blog.ctnews.com

Now that the votes have been counted, it’s safe to say there’s plenty of bad news for sustainable transportation policy across the nation: Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, a known climate change denier, is poised to lead the Environment and Public Works Committee, Wisconsin Governor (and avid highway expander) Scott Walker won reelection, and Massachusetts failed to defeat a ballot measure which ends gas tax indexing.

But if you look hard enough, you’ll find there’s some good news too.

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Save the Date: Implementing Complete Streets Projects Using New and Existing Funds

Adopting a Complete Streets policy is an excellent first step toward making roads safer and more accessible for users of all ages and abilities, but as we’ve said before: it’s how the policy is implemented that really makes a difference. Several municipalities in the tri-state region have successfully adopted Complete Streets policies, but the implementation of pedestrian and […]

Camden’s Large Carless Population Deserves Priority

Parking lots dominate some areas of the Camden waterfront. Image Source: www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com

Parking lots dominate some areas of the Camden waterfront. Image Source: www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com

Spend any time at all in Camden, New Jersey and you’ll notice people getting around without cars. Rutgers students flood out of PATCO and RiverLINE stations in the mornings and afternoons. Residents walk to work, transit hubs and local restaurants and shops. Whether by choice or out of necessity, locals rely on travel modes other than driving. To serve this large population, funding for transportation networks that accommodate Camden’s non-drivers must be prioritized by state and local agencies, and must be reflected in New Jersey’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for the region.

recent study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Frontier Group showed that millennials accross the country are choosing to live and work in places where they don’t have to drive. This is also true in Camden, where students who either commute to Rutgers University-Camden or live nearby are shunning cars in favor of commuting by public transit, on foot or by bicycle. According to the US Census, just 4.9 percent of workers nationwide aged sixteen and older commute by public transit and 2.5 percent walk to work. Compare that to Camden, where nearly 16 percent of workers aged sixteen and older take public transportation to work, and 6.5 percent commute on foot.

Nearly 35 percent of occupied housing units in Camden do not own a motor vehicle–a rate nearly four times higher than the national average of 8.9 percent. This largely carless culture is due in part to factors like the high cost of owning and maintaining a motor vehicle. Regardless of the reasons behind low car use, these numbers clearly show that additional investments in transit, sidewalks, bike lanes and trails will improve the safety and convenience of getting around Camden for all residents, and will surely help convince more people to ditch their cars.

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What You Missed at America Answers: Fix My Commute

The Washington Post today launched America Answers, a new live event series which brings together a variety of innovators to discuss major national issues. The first in the series, “Fix My Commute,” focused on transportation issues. There were a wide range of topics discussed, from bike lanes and ride-sharing to high speed rail and flying cars. Mobilizing the Region wasn’t able to attend in person, but we were able to watch live online and follow along on Twitter. If you weren’t able to tune in, here’s some of what you missed:

Flying cars

 

Bike lanes

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Gov. Christie Says “Everything Is on the Table,” But NJ’s Transportation Trust Fund Is Still Starving

New Jersey Chris Christie | Photo: AWR Hawkins, Brietbart

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie | Photo: AWR Hawkins, Brietbart

Everything is on the table” is what Governor Christie has repeatedly said about his plan to secure funding for New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) after his current five-year plan failed pretty much right out of the gate. But what exactly has the legislature put on the table so far? Here is a list of the current bills in Trenton:

A1558 (DeCroce): Authorizes development of public-private partnership transportation demonstration projects.
It would permit the New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner to select transportation projects as “demonstration projects” using public-private partnership agreements. Public-private partnerships (P3’s) are generally used to help finance large-scale projects to free up money for other projects.  Pennsylvania is looking to P3’s as part of a larger transportation funding strategy to help reduce the number of its structurally deficient bridges.

A1865 (Lesniak): Increases the motor fuels tax by five cents per year for three years for a total increase of 15 cents.
Currently, the gas tax brings in $520 million to the TTF and the total debt service for FY 2105 was approximately $1.2 billion. This increase would generate approximately $750 million. Citing the NJDOT’s 2013-2022 Statewide Capital Investment Strategy, Assemblyman Rumana recently stated that even an effort to triple the state’s already low gas tax would fall short of the state’s needs.

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