Who's Zoomin' Who? City Not Paying Its Share of MTA Bills

subwayfront.jpg2nd Avenue Sagas points out that, while we tend to blame the MTA for its current budget crisis -- particularly with another fare hike in the offing -- some of the blame really belongs elsewhere. Quoting a recent dispatch from the City's Independent Budget Office, 2nd Avenue Sagas notes that "state and city subsidies to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have remained largely flat since 1990."

You can't say that about many governmental agencies, much less one that is serving more citizens than ever before. But why is the City, never mind the state, underfunding the MTA? The answer should be obvious: every dollar they can avoid giving to the MTA, they get to keep for themselves, pet projects, and more powerful government figures.

The IBO suggests that Bloomberg routinely overestimates the City's effective contribution to the MTA to make it look like he's doing more for it than he is. For example, prior to the 1995 consolidation of the Transit Police into the NYPD, "the city reimbursed New York City Transit for the cost of running its police division and the division was only responsible for policing the subways."

Since 1995, the Mayor can do whatever he wants with the combined force, so "the cost of the transit bureau may not always correspond to the cost of policing the transit system." (By the way, this also helped Giuliani inflate for political purposes the numbers of cops he added to the force when he was Mayor.)

The City doesn't reimburse the MTA for reduced student fares, either. And some of the money City Hall counts as "subsidies" to the MTA is actually owed on funds the MTA fronted the City during the Giuliani Administration. The State finds its own ways to dun the agency, as it has done to City institutions since time immemorial.

The inevitable result, says 2nd Avenue Sagas: "As the city and state -— two financially-strapped institutions in their own rights —- bicker over funding, the MTA will turn to its one steady source of revenue: fare hikes."

This put us in mind of something we read at Room Eight. Larry Littlefield put the lie once and for all to the popular fiction that the City's school system is massively overfunded, and related charges that school advocates just want to "throw money" at the system's problems.

Littlefield shows that, outside of teacher salaries, New York City schools get far less to work with than communities in other parts of New York State. We have a worse teacher-to-student ratio, lower "non-instructional spending" per student, etc.

During the Pataki Administration, the State slashed its contribution to City schools "and cut the city’s state assistance in other categories to pay for 'tax relief' aid to the rest of the state," says Littlefield. Because few City advocates with any authority have been trying hard to get that money back for us (here Littlefield clears his throat and looks at Sheldon Silver), there's no reason why Albany should.

It's understandable to feel as if we're getting ripped off by the MTA and the City school system. Haven't they got enough of our money? Well, someone does. Scratch that -- it's never enough.

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