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Cuomo-de Blasio strain highlights transit tensions; Will lawmakers resolve it in budget?

Tom Prendergast was picked for the top slot

Tom Prendergast was picked for the top slot at the MTA in 2013. Credit: Rory Glaeseman

New Yorkers for decades have lived in a state of improvisation when it comes to funding mass transit.

The commuter rails, buses and subways survive on a jerry-rigged blend of borrowing, fares and tolls, and a mix of tax revenue -- all culled piecemeal from different parts of government.
As needs and costs change, New York City continually clashes with Albany over which level of government should pay how much.

But this season the normal tension of an ad hoc system carries an added feature: the feud between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

As one legislative source sees it, efforts to agree on a new capital plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority "got caught up in the stupidity and emotion and anger of the feud."
The state legislative session lapsed in June without agreement on a new MTA capital plan, now considered overdue. Lobbying efforts in Albany by the MTA's chief executive, Tom Prendergast, did not move the issue forward.

Cuomo & Co. now have Prendergast demanding City Hall shoulder more of the costs for what has been described as a $26.8 billion capital program suggested that if the program needs to be pared, it should come from city projects.

The response last week from the de Blasio administration, conveyed by Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and others, used such terms as "divisive" and "irresponsible." But there are still prospects for a deal.

For budget-makers, capital programs are relatively elastic. Construction and purchasing can be delayed to take pressure off. Sometimes allocations go unspent for a long time.

Some transit experts say all that helps make a compromise deal between the city and state quite possible. One question, though, is whether the Cuomo-de Blasio static will stand in the way of finding the desired funds.

While Cuomo's appointees run the MTA, city residents often look to the mayor when transit problems occur.

Perhaps it will require mediation by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), who must weigh in at some point.
The MTA also runs the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, and bridges and tunnels within the boroughs.

Watch for this drama to last into next year's state budget talks.

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