New York Notes

From the Dept. of Euphemisms: Newsday reports that the former schools superintendent of suburban Roslyn, NY pled guilty to stealing over a million dollars from his district. Apologizing in court, Frank Tassone said, “I will make restitution to the Roslyn schools and I am sorry for my poor judgment.”

Speaking of judgment, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, owner of the late World Trade Center, is finally on trial for the 1993 WTC bombing, which killed six people and injured thousands. The PA is accused of neglecting security in the underground parking lot where the truck bomb exploded. But public anger is concentrated on another seemingly all-powerful Robert Moses-era public authority, the one that runs the public-funded mass transit system without seeming to answer to anybody. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will end this year with a $933 million surplus. Common sense – and State Comptroller Alan Hevesi – says the money should go toward putting off planned fare hikes, or at least making debt payments. But the agency wants to use it to improve valuable property it owns on the west side of Manhattan (where the Olympic stadium would have gone if NYC had won its bid for the 2012 Games).

Something is wrong with this picture. The MTA is supposed to serve commuters, and manage its funds to that end. But because it is not a government agency directly answerable to elected officials, but a quasi-independent Authority, there’s not much anyone can do to control it – not even Mayor Bloomberg, who’s had some success getting things done in this impossible city.

The MTA claims developing the West Side Yards would net big profits down the line, improving the agency’s long-term fiscal health. While in the wider world it makes sense to think long-term on such matters, the MTA is not a corporation answering to shareholders, but an agency responsible (morally, if not in actual fact) to the public. Public needs are both long- and short-term, and a sensible balance must be struck. In this case, since the segments of the public most dependent on the MTA’s services and most in need of low fares are the poor and middle class, who tend to live paycheck to paycheck in this ridiculously expensive burg, holding down fares is the right thing to do.

The MTA’s history of cooking its books is another argument for keeping it on a short leash and in the here and now.

Howard Dean, by the way, is trying to convince me that Mayor Bloomberg is not a fake Republican and I should vote against him in the upcoming election. If the Democrats had a great candidate, the decision would be easy, but I’m not too impressed with Fernando Ferrer, who vacillates between foot-in-mouth disease and cautious-wuss syndrome. Yes, Bloomberg contributed $7 million to the RNC, but that wasn’t what gave Bush his victory. New York’s such a tough town to govern that when we’ve got a mayor who’s doing a pretty good job, we hesitate to kick him out.

[Cross-posted at Blogcritics]

2 thoughts on “New York Notes”

  1. Jon – When Dean Skelos makes a proposes you have to treat it with a fair degree of skepticism. I don’t know — the Westside platform proposal has the potential to be worth a large sum of money (possibly on a recurring basis) that would be good for the MTA in terms of keeping future costs lower or investing in capital improvements. Yes, there is a temptation to ameliorate costs in the short term but that seems like such a temporary fix. The Westside project has the potential to be much more than a near term band-aid. I think the MTA would be remiss in its fiduciary duties if it did not consider both the short and long run when determining how to address its surplus.

  2. Russ: Agreed re: Skelos. Hevesi’s opinion counts for a lot with me, though. Also agreed the MTA should consider all options, but in the wake of the book-cooking, its privilege to make its own decisions should be curtailed. If only there were an easy way to accomplish that.

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