WITHOUT FEDERAL RELIEF, MTA’S FUTURE IN JEOPARDY
We’ve only just entered Phase 1, and already there’s been much discussion about how quickly New York City should press ahead with reopening. But there’s one thing everyone can agree on: we are going to need a functioning, robust public transit system to carry us through the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has always been the lifeblood of the downstate region, and it’s imperative Congress acts to ensure its survival by providing an additional $3.9 billion to support its operations through 2020.
Staten Islanders rely on the MTA for rail and bus service. We can’t deal with the potential of severe cutbacks that federal inaction would likely require.
Transportation is not a partisan issue. We are a Democrat and a Republican and agree that political party does not matter here. We all benefit from mass transit. The essential workers on the frontlines of this crisis depend on the MTA to get to their critical jobs, and when the pandemic is over, we’ll all need the system to transport us to work and school and back home again.
Without federal relief, the agency’s future is in jeopardy. Ridership has dropped off precipitously, resulting in massive revenue losses. And the package of state and local taxes that support the MTA’s budget has all but disappeared. The resulting financial outlook is bleak, with the pandemic’s full projected impact landing between $7 billion and $8.5 billion in lost revenue and additional costs for this year alone, according to a study by McKinsey & Co.
The agency is incurring significant additional expenses related to disinfecting the system while trying to stave off debt. The MTA’s debt is in transportation revenue bonds, meaning that if it doesn’t get an injection of funds from Washington, the only option left for repayment is fare and toll hikes. It is simply unacceptable that our constituents should have to shoulder that burden during such a difficult time when so many are out of work.
We appreciate Congress coming through with the initial $3.9 billion for the MTA in the original CARES Act, and President Trump signing it into law and expediting the payments. But more is needed and it’s incumbent on Congress to step up once again and bridge the acute fiscal hemorrhaging– and quickly.
Mass transit powers both the regional and national economy. The MTA service region alone accounts for nearly 10 percent of the national GDP. To let the agency flounder would be to stunt and slow the economic recovery of New York and the country. We couldn’t be clearer here: there is no alternative solution to federal funding. The City and State are facing the same financial hardships and cannot provide the backing the MTA needs and deserves.
By providing additional federal assistance, the MTA would also be able to better protect its historic $51.5 billion Capital Program – which promises to deliver 13,000 jobs per billion dollars spent. These projects will put our communities back to work and bring the transit system into the 21st century.
And aside from the economic benefit, saving the MTA is the right thing to do. It honors the service and legacy of the brave MTA workers who are rightfully among the heroes of this pandemic. More than 130 employees have tragically lost their lives, and thousands more have tested positive for COVID-19. It would be unconscionable to let their sacrifice be in vain.
This isn’t political pork. The recovery of the city and national economy is at stake, and it serves everyone – Republicans, Democrats and everyone in between — to act quickly and decisively. We cannot wait any longer.
Savino is a Democrat who represents parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn. Borelli is a Republican who represents southern Staten Island.