Without Federal Aid, MTA's Proposal To Cut a Metro-North Line Rankles Lawmakers
MTA executives say without $12 billion in federal funding to help the agency recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, they will have to make draconian cuts to service and payroll. Some of the proposed cuts are for Metro-North Railroad; and one proposal in particular has angered elected officials.
MTA Chair and CEO Patrick Foye convened a virtual special meeting of the MTA Board on Wednesday to discuss the agency’s finances in light of the pandemic.
“Let’s be clear, the MTA can’t solve this pandemic-caused financial disaster without federal assistance,” Foye says.
Robert Foran is MTA’s chief financial officer.
“Without $12 billion in federal aid, Long Island Rail Road and Metro North could be forced to reduce service up to 50 percent,” Foran says.
He outlined a number of proposed cuts, but one drew the ire of a number of elected officials in the Hudson Valley.
“Elimination of West-of-Hudson service in New York could save $25 million annually in operating costs and avoid nearly $1.2 billion of capital expenses in the future,” says Foran.
Republicans Rockland County Executive Ed Day and Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus issued a joint statement along with Rockland’s MTA Board Member Frank Borelli, urging the federal government to step in with stimulus funding for MTA. They also say the proposal to eliminate West-of-Hudson rail service for a $25 million annual savings would be catastrophic to Rockland and Orange Counties. Here’s Day:
“That is an utter abomination, and I’m sick of the games that are being played between the MTA and the federal government,” Day says. “Look, a $25 million cut may not be a lot for Long Island, in Suffolk and Nassau east of the city; a $25 million cut may not be a big deal north of the city, for Westchester, for example, but a $25 million cut in Rockland, who is already the most underserved county in the region would shut down the only train system we have going to the city west of the Hudson, including Orange County, too.”
He says there is already a $40 million annual value gap between what Rockland County pays into the MTA and what it gets back in service; as has been the case for decades. New York Senate and Assembly Democrats whose districts would be affected, say that if West-of-Hudson service faces disproportionate cuts relative to other MTA branches, they will begin taking steps to remove Rockland and Orange Counties - and their tax dollars - from the agency and either initiate a public takeover of the system and/or contract directly with New Jersey Transit. Among these lawmakers is Democratic state Senator Jen Metzger, who represents the 42nd District, which includes parts of Orange County. She calls the proposed cut shortsighted and unfair.
“So, this is just not an acceptable solution to helping the MTA out of its funding debacle,” says Metzger. “It’s just, to end the West-of-Hudson service would be devastating to the communities I represent. People depend on that line to get to work.”
When Day served as a Rockland County legislator, he moved to withdraw the county from the MTA, and supports the state legislators’ current efforts.
“I would absolutely endorse that effort, again, having done, I tried to do it myself 10 years ago as part of the legislature; I get it, but, really, there’d be no reason at all for us to even be in the MTA anymore,” says Day. “Give us our money. Let us spend our money our own way.”
The MTA’s Foye:
“We cannot cut our way, the MTA can’t cut its way out of this,” Foye says. “Having said that, we’ve identified an additional $540 million of spending cuts, non-service related, non-personnel related that we will effect in 2021. That’s on top of an existing $800 million of expense cuts that are already built into the financial plan.”
Though he hopes to avoid the proposed cuts, they will be on the table without federal aid.
“If we don’t get federal funding, we will have to take these actions to our board later this year in order to have effect in 2021,” says Foye.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the MTA is just one entity that would suffer without federal funding from another coronavirus relief package.
“And there wouldn’t be one hole in the dyke called the MTA, there would be, there would be 50 holes in the dyke,” says Cuomo. “It will be a shotgun blast at the dyke and you couldn’t possibly fill all the holes.”
Other proposed cuts affecting Metro-North include closing ticket windows. Plus, some 850 positions would be eliminated across Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road should a number of other cuts be implemented.