New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority should create a separate fund for debt service and institute a rolling five-year capital plan, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a campaign event yesterday.
The proposals were among 33 initiatives released as part of what the campaign called a "mass transit reform plan," though many of the initiatives had been included in his 2007 "PlaNYC" program, which outlined long-term capital needs for the city.
"The MTA must completely reform its capital budget process, a process that has been defined by broken promises," Bloomberg said. "A major reason for this is because of incentives that encourage the authority to spend all of its money as quickly as possible."
Although the Legislature rejected a proposal put forward by a commission led by former MTA chairman and current Lieut. Gov. Richard Ravitch that would have created new revenue streams and a new issuing authority, Bloomberg said the MTA could "achieve some of the same goals by setting up a separate fund for debt service and implementing rolling five-year capital plans. Doing so would allow the MTA to be more transparent and would provide capital funding dedicated for infrastructure from being used to fund the system's operating needs."
The proposal did not include details about how such a separate fund would be controlled or how it would be different from the current revenue pledges that repay MTA bonds.
A bailout package for the MTA approved by the Legislature ultimately included a payroll tax that is put into a segregated account, but it did not create a new issuing authority.
The Bloomberg campaign did not respond to requests for more detail on the proposal. The MTA is currently putting together a new five-year capital program that will be released in the fall. The plan, which is expected to total about $29 billion, is subject to approval by a joint city and state board.
Other items mentioned in the menu of proposals included expanded subway service, open road tolling on MTA bridges and tunnels, pilot light-rail projects on the Brooklyn and Western Queens waterfronts, and the reopening of a rail line on Staten Island's North Shore that is already the subject of a city and MTA studies.
Bloomberg did not provide a price tag for the various initiatives, but said that many would save money and that "the big ones aren't all that capital-intensive."
One proposal that instantly got widespread attention was for the MTA to provide free crosstown bus service on several routes, such as three major bus lines in Midtown. Bloomberg said that the lost revenue would be "trivial" because many of those riders use already free transfers from subways.
"As always, we welcome the mayor's input and look forward to working with him and other elected officials in finding ways to make the MTA more efficient and transparent while being certain the MTA has the funding it needs to continue providing critical services to all New Yorkers," said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.
The proposals drew criticism from mayoral candidate and City Comptroller William Thompson Jr.'s campaign, which said the plan was "full of empty promises and stolen ideas."
"Under Mike Bloomberg's watch, MTA fares have gone up 50%," campaign spokeswoman Carly Lindauer said in a statement. "New Yorker straphangers pay the highest percentage of mass transit costs in the nation, and buses and subways continue to be both dirty and unreliable."