Citing a worsening revenue outlook, the board of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Wednesday voted against restoring $20 million in bus and subway service cuts for fiscal 2012.
The board, after rejecting an amendment that called for the restoration and rehiring of 300 workers, passed the $12.7 billion budget and $24.3 billion capital plan through 2014.
“Fragile” was the operative financial word Wednesday at MTA headquarters on Madison Avenue. Due to the state’s partial rollback of the payroll mobility tax, or PMT, which was enacted as part of a tax-code overhaul Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed two weeks ago, the agency expects to lose $212 million next year and $310 million annually.
MTA officials also anticipate an $87 million drop in projected subsidies from the Metropolitan Mass Transportation Operating Assistance account — a collection of taxes dedicated to public transportation — based on data from budget officials in Albany.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the first quarter when we see Wall Street bonuses that aren’t,” said chief financial officer Robert Foran. “That hits our PMT.”
Though Cuomo and legislative leaders say they will reimburse the MTA for all its lost revenue, Moody’s Investors Service said Monday that additional strain could put negative pressure on the agency’s transportation revenue bonds, which it rates A2 with a stable outlook.
“The state has a history of reducing MTA appropriations when faced with its own challenges,” Moody’s said, noting that New York has its own $1.7 billion budget gap for fiscal 2013. In addition, the state has raided dedicated, or “lockbox,” mass transit funds the past two years to balance its own budget.
Moody’s analysts said potential risks of state reimbursement include vulnerability to cuts, especially during state budget stress and uncertainty about the size of the revenue loss. Also, if the replacement money is a fixed amount, the MTA would not benefit from economic growth in the PMT assessment base.
Fitch Ratings in September downgraded the revenue bonds to A from A-plus, citing “higher-than-expected, near- to medium-term financial pressure.”
Standard & Poor’s rates them A.
MTA executive director Joseph Lhota bristled when asked if state leaders will come through with reimbursements.
“I don’t like hypotheticals,” he said. “I take the governor, the House speaker and the Senate majority leader at their word that every penny will be restored.” He said riders will experience no further service cuts this year.
The payroll tax of 34 cents per $100, which the Legislature passed in 2009 and enabled the MTA at the time to forestall severe service cuts, had become an important new resource for the agency. According to Moody’s, it’s expected to total 13% of revenue available for transportation revenue bond debt service in 2011. The PMT is not pledged to the bonds, but the MTA uses it to pay debt service and operating costs.
The attempted $20 million restoration failed by a 6-to-4 vote — closer than the finance committee’s 7-to-2 rejection of the same measure on Monday. “I wasn’t surprised. There’s a passion about service cuts,” Lhota said. The MTA made $93 million worth of service cuts last year.
Allen Cappelli, Mitchell Pally, Charles Moerdler and Fernando Ferrer voted for the restoration. Moerdler requested making the change effective July 1, pending the revenue stream.
Opposed were board vice chairman Andrew Saul, Jonathan Ballan, Jeffrey Kay, Mark Lebow, Nancy Shevell, and the four-person block of Robert Bickford, Susan Metzger, James Sedore and Carl Wortendyke, each of which contribute one-quarter of a vote.
“I understand the fiscal situation quite well. We’re not talking about a financial rejiggering. We’re not asking for a single dollar extra. We’re asking for a reprioritization. We can certainly find $20 million in another area,” said Cappelli, the sole member from New York City’s Staten Island borough.
“These aren’t pet projects and we’re not asking to benefit a single jurisdiction,” he said. “The people hurt by these cuts are from 'the other New York.’ The MTA is not just about Manhattan and the subways, and getting on and off a line.”
But Wortendyke, echoing comments from Saul, Lhota, and Foran, wondered how long the restored service would last. “If we start doing this now and then take it away, we would look horrible,” he said.
According to Foran, other risks include a worsening of the economy and falling short on labor settlements.
The MTA cut its capital program for 2010-2104 by $2 billion, to $24.3 billion.
Linda Kleinbaum, the MTA’s deputy executive director for administration, said cost-cutting includes improved productivity of projects along the right of way, which accounts for 30% of all projects; purchasing cheaper rolling stock; replacing components rather than entire assets; and trimming capital management costs.