This takeover should be ethereal.
Andrew Yang’s proposal for a municipal takeover of New York City Transit, a Potemkin village of “vision” and “daring,” is bad enough to sink his entire campaign.
Yang’s plan, or rather the blurry outlines of a plan, was presented to New Yorkers on Wednesday. He calls on the city’s transportation ministry, with its budget of less than $ 2 billion, to take over and manage the city’s subways and buses, which currently have an annual operating budget of $ 10 billion. dollars. Such a plan would require state approval, which is unlikely.
“The plan is to seek the mayor’s control of the subways and buses that make up most of New York’s transit, and then operate that service under the Department of Transportation,” Yang said Tuesday morning outside the headquarters of the MTA.
It’s a plan that raises more questions than it answers, questions like “What happens to the MTA’s operating budget and operating debt?”
For a question like that, Yang appealed to the former director of the Cuomo administration of Operation Jamie Rubin, whose the CV is impressive (unless you like resumes with transit experience, which this doesn’t have). Rubin said he couldn’t explain the plan in its entirety – even though it’s a central part of Yang’s case for becoming New York mayor – because the MTA is just too complicated. .
“There are only about five people in this world who understand the spaghetti structure that MTA debt exists in, okay?” said Rubin. “So, first of all, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to ask Andrew Yang, me, or anyone else here exactly how they’re going to unwind the funding structure.”
Veterans of Albany politics were not amused.
“It’s pathetic,” Reinvent Albany executive director John Kaheny said. “The MTA currently pays about $ 3 billion a year in debt service, and the people who receive this $ 3 billion debt service understand it and they have a lot of lawyers who really understand it. There is a whole industry of lawyers and accountants who deal with MTA financing and understand all of this. “
Rubin also assured voters that, given that the MTA is already receiving tax money from the New York area, the question of funding this gargantuan new city bond is not a big deal either. About half of New York City Transit’s operating budget comes from fares, there are a host of taxes and subsidies, such as gasoline tax, mortgage tax inside the MTA service area and a tax on the wages of employers in the MTA service area which are defined and controlled by the state. The MTA itself also receives around $ 2 billion a year from tolls on bridges and tunnels inside the city, further complicating the separation with a larger mother ship, as the MTA would likely want to keep. this money (partly to manage the commuter train lines).
“It is not a question of unwinding the operating revenues that enter the subways. We have a lot of services in the city which are provided every day by federal money, state money by city money and we do not ask who provides which and if we stop if the city takes more or adds money to set up a substitute. or a brand new program. The financial structure is absolutely complex, but the actual flow of income will not change at all. “
Kaehny was wholehearted in his criticism of this statement.
“There is a word for it, which is called a lieKaehny said in response to Rubin’s promise that the flow of money would not change. “These are all taxes dedicated by the state. The city cannot charge any tax. The personal income tax in the city, the corporate income tax, all these taxes are controlled by the state. “
Yang’s plan, as presented in person and on its website, ignores the basic reality that the 5 billion dollars in taxes that finance the MTA are not collected by the city.
If you want to be charitable, you can assume that part of the negotiations on the transfer of the transit system would include agreements on these taxes and subsidies. But that’s an assumption, and there is a great risk of making a donkey both with you and umption.
None of what Yang is proposing deals with the fact that the state could hand subways and buses back to New York City and then turn around and vaporize, say, the Metropolitan Mass Transit Operating Assistance Fund, otherwise known as from MMTOA, otherwise known as dedicated transit funding that came under attack through Andrew Cuomo so often that the state legislature had to make multiple attempts adopt a law this required him to write a note the next time he attempted to loot the funds. And even after this law was passed, the MTA was looking for hundreds of millions of dollars in dedicated tax funds missing due to a pandemic-era MMTOA raid, which was only avoided thanks to a Federal bailout for New York State.
Yang suggested that funding wouldn’t be an issue, likening the challenge to the city’s bitter battle to gain “control” of the state’s public schools.
“There are many precedents for the city to take control of something [such as] our schools, and the state continues to fund them. It’s not that when the city has control over something all of a sudden, all fiscal responsibility falls on New York, ”he suggested as a similar situation.
I scratched my head at what he’s talking about. Even before the mayor’s control, the city … still controlled its own schools? And states fund their local school districts. https://t.co/rsp00ZP3b4
– Reema Amin (@reemadamin) May 20, 2021
But it is not pain relieving; The notion of Yang ignores the fact that even after, Mayor Bloomberg obtained control from the Board of Education, the state and the city have dissolved fighting for adequate school funding for years. It wasn’t until this year that the city finally got the funding it was looking for in the decade-long campaign to fight for tax fairness. When asked if a similar situation could arise if the city were to rely on the goodwill of the state to continue sending dedicated taxes, the campaign ignored the question altogether.
This is all part of a model of Yang who seems to fail to understand basic city politics or politics, such as how the city already runs homeless shelters focused on domestic violence or has struggled for years on the issue of disclosure of police disciplinary records.
– Harry Siegel (@harrysiegel) May 20, 2021
But Wednesday’s performance was particularly insulting because it was based on the idea that things will work out and that we are all too stupid to have it explained respectfully.
Yang was not wrong to say that the city’s control of buses and subways is a way out of the dynamic where a mayor and a governor are arguing over who is responsible for New York’s lifeblood. Former mayoral candidate Corey Johnson published a report in 2019, which presented a case to create a new bureaucracy to oversee the entire city transport world – and that report was also based on some magical thinking (namely that Albany will give the city tax administration , and labor costs will be negotiated down … just because). But Johnson’s proposal was at least a serious attempt to start a conversation about the details of what municipal control of the metro and bus might look like.
But even people who supported Johnson’s plan or the general idea of municipal control of subways walked away from Yang’s mind-blowing press conference suggesting he didn’t know what he was talking about. Ben Kabak, of the MTA-focused blog Second Avenue Sagas, tweeted that the plan was “ridiculously low-key.”
Yang would be wise to pay very close attention to what Cuomo has been saying lately and how the MTA and TWU leaders have backed him 100%. It’s real, deep-rooted political power that the governor won’t give up because Andrew Yang kindly asks.
– Second Ave. Sagas (@ 2AvSagas) May 19, 2021
“It won’t work if it’s not a good plan,” Kabak said, which gets to the heart of the matter.
Yang didn’t show up with any TWU allies, he didn’t show up with an Albany legislative leader who pledged to work with him to hand the subways back to the city fairly, he didn’t show up not even presented with an understanding which spawns the MTA controls. Given nearly six months to create a plan beyond make a wish on the big egg, the one who showed he was ready to tackle a complex problem worth billions of dollars, Yang just didn’t bother. There would be no complaint if Yang showed up with copies of “Let’s Go!” From Johnson’s report, but instead he introduced himself and claimed that the MTA made it difficult to see something as basic as its annual debt service, a number you can find in a dark green slice of a pie chart titled “Where Do The Dollars Go?”
“So I tell the people of New York, ‘I want the subways and the buses,’ because I want the responsibility of making them work for us and our families,” Yang said Wednesday.
He shouldn’t be surprised when New Yorkers reply: What have you shown us that makes you worthy of this responsibility?