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MTA overhaul in Cuomo's budget proposal includes 'clear authority'

The plan suggests the governor will seek to control the majority of the votes on the 17-member board.

During his State of the State address in Albany on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed a major overhaul of the MTA, including exerting more control over the embattled public authority and implementing a long-debated congestion pricing plan that would create new tolls for those driving into Manhattan. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday proposed a major overhaul of the MTA, including exerting more control over of the embattled public authority and implementing a long-debated congestion pricing plan that would create new tolls for driving in Manhattan.

At his annual State of the State and budget address in Albany, Cuomo said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s problems are about “management and ... money,” and outlined two major proposals to revamp both. On the management side, Cuomo vowed in his executive budget to work with the state Legislature “to establish clear authority over the MTA.”

Although short on details, the proposal suggests Cuomo will seek to control the majority of the votes on the 17-member board. Under current law, the governor appoints the board chairman and five other members. New York City’s mayor appoints four other members, and county executives throughout the MTA’s service region pick the rest of the board’s voting members. Cuomo said the result is a “diabolical” structure where “everybody is in charge,” and “no one is in charge.”

“It was purposefully designed so that everyone can point fingers at everybody else, and nobody is responsible. Why? Because no politician wanted to be responsible. No politician wants to be the one that suggested a fare increase,” Cuomo said. “I’m telling you, that is the fundamental problem with the MTA. If there is not someone’s name on the line, the bureaucracy governs and fills the void. And that’s where we are with the MTA.”

Cuomo said it was critical the organizational change be made this year, in part because of the need to advance several major transportation initiatives in the region. Those include projects involving the LIRR, such as construction of a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville, the redevelopment of Penn Station, and the $11.2 billion East Side Access project linking the railroad to Grand Central Terminal.

Cuomo’s proposal appeared to have some early support by some MTA board members, including Suffolk representative Mitchell Pally, who agreed that the antiquated makeup of the board diffuses accountability. At a special meeting of the MTA board on Tuesday morning, board member Charles Moerdler, who was appointed by the governor’s office, said he agreed “it’s time this monolith get a good, thorough shake-up.”

Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, a business and planning group, also said he believes “accountability is critically important in any organization, especially one the size of the MTA.”

“If the governor wants to step up and be the one accountable, I think the legislature should give him that power because he knows how to get things done,” Law said.

The governor’s call comes as the MTA has struggled in recent years with worsening delays on its subway system and the LIRR. To fund improvements to the system, Cuomo is pushing for the adoption of a congestion pricing plan that would toll vehicles that travel into Manhattan at 60th Street or below. Cuomo said that plan would generate $15 billion a year for the MTA.

Cuomo said any additional MTA expenses not covered by the new congestion-pricing toll revenue should be split 50-50 between New York City and the state.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, talking to reporters after Cuomo’s address, said he disagreed with the governor’s concept, and he said any discussion on changing how the MTA is governed and funded should also include a plan to make the agency more efficient.

“It is not enough to simply come up with a revenue package and then repeat the same mistakes of the past in terms of how money is spent,” said de Blasio, who singled out East Side Access as “the poster child for inefficiency.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said he believes congestion pricing can be an important tool in generating revenue for MTA, but he said any plan would have to set aside new funding for the LIRR, which he said is at “historically low levels of performance.”

“That would be another great source of income,” said Kaminsky, who also is open to considering Cuomo’s proposal for having more control over the MTA. “I don’t believe the maximum amount of pressure and accountability has been put on the Long Island Rail Road, especially in the last couple of years.”

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