The MTA board passed a $16 billion budget Wednesday that could put the subway rescue plan at risk, according to the city’s reps on the panel — who all voted against it.
The operating budget has a major hole in it, about $430 million in funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s plan to upgrade the subway service. MTA Chairman Joe Lhota and Gov. Cuomo want Mayor de Blasio to cover that shortfall to match the state’s pledge to pay for half of the $863 million plan.
De Blasio is adamant that MTA funding is a state responsibility, and the 9-4 vote on the budget reflected the city’s displeasure.
Amid the funding uncertainty, Lhota said he’d stretch out the work under the subway action plan. He also fended off criticism that the budget puts critical subway work on a “chopping block.”
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“Nothing in this budget is on the chopping block,” Lhota said. “If the money doesn’t come in, we’re going to have to stretch what we need to do out over a period of time.”
He refused to say what the new work schedule would look like.
But he credited the plan with making the subway more bearable, with major weekday incidents down to 64 in October, from 81 in June. Major signal problems dropped, as well, to 16 disruptions in October, from 25 in June.
Subway riders, meanwhile, felt trapped in the middle of Cuomo and de Blasio’s funding feud. At least one also felt like a pawn.
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“It’s a strategy. It’s going to anger riders like us, we’re going to be outraged by that idea, and the pressure will be thrust back on both of them to have to reach a compromise, because there’s no way riders are just going to tolerate that idea,” said Peter Wood, 50, an Upper East Sider who works in real estate. “So get your act together. You both have to put money in.”
De Blasio’s four MTA board reps — Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, anti-poverty activist David Jones, transit advocate Veronica Vanterpool and former city planner Carl Weisbrod — blistered the budget for instructing members to limit the scope of the repair plan.
“I just don’t agree with the contention that the subway action plan should be the only thing on the chopping block” should money run short, Trottenberg said.
Weisbrod said the board should set spending priorities.
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“It could be a million different things that could be extended under spending and that’s our responsibility,” he said.
The MTA budget, however, still had defenders on the board.
Board member Charles Moerdler, using the chopping block metaphor, said it’s Mayor de Blasio wielding the knife.
“Who wields the scimitar? It’s the city of New York’s mayor,” he said. “Put your money where your mouth is, Mr. Mayor.”
Austin Finan, a de Blasio spokesman, criticized Cuomo for siphoning transit money for the state budget.
“City riders deserve a fully implemented subway action plan. Laying the turnaround plan on the chopping block is unacceptable,” Finan said. “If the state refuses to return the dollars it swiped from the MTA’s coffers, it’s on the authority to find efficiencies and fund the plan.”
With Ellen Moynihan
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