New York State should contribute 20% of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital program, a policy think tank and an advocacy group said in a report last week.

The liberal Drum Major Institute for Public Policy and the organization Transportation Alternatives called for an end to “the fiscally irresponsible reliance on debt by restoring the state’s contribution to the MTA capital program.”

“While MTA executives can continue to cut costs at the margins, only a concerted plan led by the next governor can redirect investment to the state’s mass transit system and avert a fiscal disaster,” the groups said in a news release.

“A true Albany reformer willing to make tough choices would move the MTA away from costly borrowing and make smart investments that will drive renewed economic growth, boost the state’s economic competitiveness, and save taxpayers money in the long term.”

The report, “Solving the MTA’s Budget Crisis and Reinvesting in Mass Transit,” argues that the end of direct state subsidies in 1992 to the agency’s capital program was largely responsible for its rising debt burden.

The MTA had $31.1 billion of bonds outstanding as of Sept. 10, according to the authority’s website. Most of that debt is secured by fare and toll revenue while $5.62 billion is backed by dedicated taxes. Restoring state funding would ease pressure to raise fares and tolls to back debt.

The authority has been a lightning rod for criticism this year as it approved fare hikes and service cuts, and is expected to approve toll hikes this week. State cuts and lower-than-expected dedicated tax revenue caused a $900 million funding gap this year.

Restoring state funding to the MTA seems unlikely in the current political climate. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo in a debate last week criticized the authority’s management and said that the governor should be in charge of the agency. The governor does appoint the chairman and chief executive officer. Republican candidate Carl Paladino has called for abolishing the MTA.

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