Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated former Gov. David Paterson to join the MTA's board. Paterson spoke with amNewYork Wednesday about what makes him good for the job and how he plans to make ensure the cash-strapped transit agency exhibits "financial discipline."
How will you improve the MTA board?
Often the board gets frustrated with the executive branch, and at least I think I can explain to other board members what the executive branch's challenges are. And I've been one who hasn't been afraid to stick their nose in to be critical as I was in 2003 when then-Senator, now Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and I went after the board about the two sets of books.
You really think they have two sets of books?
I think they did, I don't think they do now… I think after they got around that problem, they recognized that if that went on anymore there'd be further scrutiny.
The MTA says it's broke. How can they get assistance?
I'd like to see the MTA get more resources, but I used to hear people say that when I was governor and I knew that we had exhausted the resources we had, which is why I begrudgingly accepted the payroll tax
You spoke recently with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who thinks the MTA should get money from a new commuter tax, and he also supports the Triboro Rx Line. What do you think of his proposals?
I thought [the commuter tax] made sense when it was put in in 1956, but once it was repealed, I think it's politically unfeasible. Connecting the outer boroughs is a brilliant idea in my view down the line. If the money's there, it could happen. But, you know, that's, again, a financial consideration.
Are biannual fare hikes inevitable?
We would hope that we would get to a point where that won't happen. What we have to understand is if we were starting out with a level playing field, I think these days that with this Governor and with this new chair [Joseph Lhota]… we could set up a structure where you did not see frequent fare hikes. But we're not operating from a level playing field right now, we're operating from a deep debt — and that's the problem. We're paying for the sins of predecessors.
Is that fair to riders?
Nobody wants a fare hike, nobody wants diminished services, but the spending in the past was unsustainable. And the MTA, back in the early part of the millennium, was overspending to a point that it ran up a debt that was greater than 47 states. I don't blame people for complaining, but they got used to services that were costing way, way beyond the capacity to fund these services.
The MTA might argue that their economic situation is also, in part, due to a lack of government aid. In the past, dedicated funding for the MTA was taken away while you were in office and also under Gov. Cuomo. Is all the blame on the MTA?
No — I think that in order to try to keep us from going down the wrong road, that I made the MTA's job a lot more difficult at times.
Do you use MTA trains or buses?
I've been a prolific subway rider who hasn't really been riding the subway much since 2006 when I first ran for lieutenant governor. I have been on the Metro-North, and I'm from Long Island … I ride the Long Island Rail Road a lot, even now.
Do you think you'll take the subway more now?
Yeah, because it's something I'm gonna work on, I think it's incumbent to kind of get the feel of what it's like…The same way that I thought police and firefighter and public servants should live where their constituents are.