Cuomo serves up an appetizer of MTA ideas
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo spent his lunch hour in front of a sea of friendly faces Thursday, giving a speech that focused on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority but also, somehow, featured the Terminator, John Travolta, Vince Lombardi, Frankenstein and Donald Trump.
Cuomo provided the Association for a Better New York a preview of some of what’s on tap for the Long Island Association Friday. It had all the typical elements – the Power Point presentation, the attempts at humor and applause lines, the rundown of infrastructure accomplishments, and the big asks.
After running through the state’s fiscal concerns, and highlighting the deal to bring Amazon to New York City, Cuomo turned his attention to the MTA, calling it a “great transit abyss” and “a governmental Frankenstein.” In examining the potential leadership options for the MTA, Cuomo suggested the Terminator, New York City, Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins before finally turning the spotlight on himself.
As for funding the MTA, Cuomo ran through a host of options there, too, including asking Trump to pay for it, instituting a millionaire’s tax, raising fares by 30 percent, having the city or the state contribute much more, reinstituting the commuter tax and tolling out-of-state drivers before dismissing all of them in favor of congestion pricing.
Cuomo promised the business group that he’d be adding a more specific MTA restructuring plan to his budget amendments, which are due next week, but his talk lacked detail on how Cuomo would reorganize the MTA to get more direct control, or what a congestion pricing plan would look like.
Perhaps he’s saving those details for the audience he’ll face at the LIA Friday, when he will also discuss regional economic initiatives.
For sure, the specifics will come up when he meets with Newsday’s editorial board afterward.
Randi F. Marshall
Pete Lopez has a term for what he does at the Environmental Protection Agency: He calls it “noble work.”
But the agency’s administrator for Region 2, which includes New York and New Jersey, also knows Donald Trump’s EPA is under fire from critics who accuse it of tilting too far to business interests at the expense of its mission of protecting the environment.
“I see a world that has extremes on either side,” Lopez told The Point Thursday. “It’s a challenge for any administration. What we’re trying to do, as maddening as it is … is find the optimum balance. That’s a tall order.”
Lopez’ comments followed a morning appearance before the Long Island Association business group in Melville. His emphasis on “finding a balance” was most prominent in his discussion of the EPA’s drive to eliminate regulations. He described it as a matter of analyzing environmental protection vs. possible drags on the economy.
Asked later about the perception that the agency is more concerned with helping industry than protecting the environment, Lopez told The Point, “It’s a misperception, that’s my first-blush response...There’s a balance between the economic use of the resource and the protection of the resource.”
Lopez said there are ways to achieve environmental standards other than regulation. He noted the EPA earlier this week announced $2 million in incentives for truckers who use Port Authority facilities such as marine terminals to replace old pollution-belching trucks with new, more efficient models.
Lopez, a career public servant, was for nearly 11 years a state assemblyman whose district included the mid-Hudson area, the northern Catskills and the Southern Tier. He also was a member of the environmental conservation committee before being tapped by the EPA in September 2017. He knows New York and Long Island well, and addressed some topics of intense regional interest.
He called emerging contaminants in drinking water “one of the greatest challenges of our generation.” So why has the EPA been dragging its feet on setting drinking water limits for PFOA and PFOS? Lopez said the agency will issue a significant report “in the very, very near future.”
Lopez also acknowledged criticism of a drop in enforcement actions that some say is a sign of the EPA’s new hands-off treatment of industry. “We want to be thoughtful partners,” he said. “If someone is belligerent … they will feel the full force of the EPA. I’d rather bring folks along willingly with open hearts and open minds.”
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Publicly advocating for the MTA
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority got a lot of attention at a raucous 10-person debate among NYC public advocate candidates Wednesday night.
The winner to replace now-state Attorney General Tish James will immediately have a bully pulpit to influence looming MTA funding and potential reorganization conversations. Some of the current squabbling could soon resonate in Albany.
Bronx Assemb. Michael Blake called for the public advocate to have a permanent seat on the MTA Board, which would be a big change.
A few of the candidates want the city to control the subways entirely, with former lieutenant governor primary challenger Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn favoring “municipal control” with both mayoral and City Council oversight.
There was also some appetite among candidates for the city to contribute more funding to the MTA, a favorite Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo talking point. Manhattan lawyer Dawn Smalls was particularly outspoken in criticizing the mayor for not taking enough responsibility for the MTA, though de Blasio does not make hiring decisions or control the most board seats.
On congestion pricing at least, almost all of the candidates appeared to be on the same page, favoring the general concept of tolling to raise money for the MTA and/or decrease traffic. The one outlier other than outer-borough Republican Councilman Eric Ulrich was Nomiki Konst, an activist and organizer, who raised her hand for the idea but said she wanted the firms that hire drivers to bear the cost.
Konst also added that the MTA was being intentionally starved of resources which she said was “for the reason of privatizing it.”
Maybe Albany should look for a company interested.