De Blasio clears the field + Who Controls the MTA?

Local News

  • Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced that he would issue civil summonses instead of prosecuting people for turnstile jumping, but criminal justice reform advocates with the Coalition to End Broken Windows found the move insufficient.
  • Despite initial reports that stated the opposite, the state legislature’s extension of mayoral control did in fact expand the charter school cap in the city by nearly two dozen.
  • Planned Parenthood rebuked the IDC after they sent out mailers incorrectly implying that the organization had endorsed IDC candidates, including State Senators Jose Peralta (Queens), Jeff Klein (Bronx), and Marisol Alcantara (Manhattan).
  • Traffic fatalities in the City have hit all-time lows against rising national trends, likely a result of de Blasio’s Vision Zero program, which emphasizes traffic calming interventions at dangerous locations.
  • Cuomo continues to route MTA funds away from the subway despite recently declaring a “state of emergency.”
  • The president of the most prominent NYC building contractors trade organization publicly acknowledged a shift away from union labor among its members.
  • Advocates on all ends of the political spectrum are lining up both for and against the proposed New York State Constitutional Convention that will be on this November’s ballot.

Elections

  • The field has been cleared of recognizable challengers to Mayor de Blasio in this year’s election, with police reform activist Bob Gangi and former Council Member Sal Albanese representing the mayor’s main opponents in the Democratic primary, and backbench Republican Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis poised to face him in the general election.
  • Council Member Robert Cornegy (D-Bedford Stuyvesant) could become a frontrunner for Council Speaker in 2018 as he appears to have gained support from Brooklyn Democratic Party Boss Frank Seddio, and potentially from Queens Democratic Party boss Joe Crowley as well.
  • Transport Workers Union Local 100 has endorsed Justin Brannan, running in Brooklyn’s District 43 against DSA endorsee Khader El-Yateem and others.
  • Assembly Member Denny Farrell (D-Upper Manhattan) has announced his retirement after over 40 years in the chamber. His impending vacancy has significant implications as Farrell currently serves as chair of the Ways and Means committee, a major leadership position in the Assembly.

Who Controls the MTA?

Last month, amidst another round of disruptive subway and train failures around the City, Governor Cuomo baffled observers by suggesting that he didn’t control the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). While the statement was largely mocked by the local media, Cuomo was likely motivated to make the claim because he knows that while the vast majority of New Yorkers experience the MTA’s woes intimately, their knowledge of the Authority’s power structure is sorely lacking. A 2016 NY1 poll found that 47% of New Yorkers believed that Mayor de Blasio controls the subway system, 14% didn’t know at all, and only 39% knew that it was Governor Cuomo. While the Governor undeniably controls the MTA by appointing its chair, nominating a plurality of members to its board, and controlling its budget, the complicated bureaucracy and history behind the Authority obscure its structure and problems from the New Yorkers it serves.

Formation

The MTA currently oversees the New York City Subway, New York City buses, the Staten Island Railway, the state’s two commuter rail lines (Long Island Rail Road and Metro North), and the nine toll bridges and tunnels that connect the five boroughs. During the first few decades of its operation, the subway was run by three separate companies (which resulted in separate subway systems, contributing to problems that still resonate today) until it was publicly acquired by the City in 1940. The current train and bus lines are all direct descendants of mostly private companies and subsequent public acquisitions during the 20th century. 

The MTA was formed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1968 in a major transfer of power from the City to the State. In the 1960s, the NYC Subway was plagued with severe funding deficits and aging train cars, and the private Long Island Rail Road and Metro North predecessor companies faced bankruptcy. Mayor John Lindsay worked with Governor Rockefeller to develop a funding mechanism that diverted toll revenue from the younger and highly profitable Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority to support the desperate train systems under a single state-run umbrella. The creation of the MTA was also seen as an attempt to extinguish Robert Moses’ stranglehold over regional transportation policy, which had lasted over three decades. The MTA created a board structure to represent its service region of NYC, Long Island and the Lower Hudson Valley with 14 total voting members (6 nominated by the Governor, 4 by the Mayor, 3 from respective Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester county executives, and a single combined vote from four counties farther north in the Hudson Valley).

Points of Authority

The specific reasons for the MTA’s current problems are numerous and include dense bureaucratic issues such as skyrocketing capital costs, but a major cause of the MTA’s dysfunction lies in the Authority’s fundamental de-emphasis on NYC’s unique needs. The MTA’s board nominees are all subject to approval by the State Senate, who have been known to delay confirmations in order to spite the Mayor in fits of partisan rancor. Even though they have an objectively lower stake in the MTA’s operations, suburban counties combine to cast the same number of votes on the board as the City, and several of these those counties do not even contribute funds to the MTA’s capital budget while the City contributes $2.5B. Placing the budget in the hands of the state has further endangered proper funding over the years, making it subject to the whims of governors and legislatures that often pit “downstate” versus “upstate” needs in a zero sum game. Continued failure to properly fund the MTA has prompted the Authority to make up deficits largely through fare hikes and deficit spending, turning the city’s infrastructural lifeblood into a can that keeps getting kicked down the road.

On July 22nd, NYC-DSA is hosting a screening and discussion about organizing to win better public transit in NYC – details here.

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