Bill De Blasio Wants Millionaires to Subsidize the New York Subway System

Today, Hizzoner Bill De Blasio of New York City trotted out his brain trust and union allies to declare “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

Oops, that comes later.

De Blasio played that tired old song of “the rich need to pay their fair share”, this time, the rich need to pay for capital improvements to New York subways. It’s the same lame song that has seen an exodus of wealthy citizens to more friendly areas (see Chicago and Los Angeles).

Rather than attempt to excise the rot that caused the problem (MTA mismanagement of resources) De Blasio and company would rather paper over the MTA’s malfeasance with an infusion tax money, taken under sound moral theory of “how could you be so heartless as to deny me your stuff? You have so much and I have so little! If you don’t give me your stuff, I’ll suffer and it will be your fault!”

Here are some examples MTA malfeasance.

June 21, 2017:

Two MTA board members admitted Wednesday that the agency has mismanaged its money — as a top transit official declared that the current subway crisis is “an emergency.”

Board member James Vitiello griped that not enough money has been spent on issues that need to be urgently addressed, like subway maintenance.

“We have taken on projects that have been expensive . . . like Second Avenue Subway or cashless tolling,” he conceded during a meeting at MTA headquarters in Manhattan. I think we’re coming around to seeing we may have done some of that at the expense of day-to-day maintenance.

Members acknowledged the agency is beset with problems — and a chronic lack of accountability. Scott Rechler called the entire MTA system “immensely broken.” “We are at such a point of crisis that it requires approaching it differently,” he said.

In short, the MTA has spent more money on subway photo ops rather than subway functionality.

May 17, 2016:

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers left stranded; 2.5 million pick-up and drop-off times may have been manipulated to show more favorable performance; Less than 50% of one car service’s trips were on-time

More than 31,000 times in 2015, New York City residents booked Access-A-Ride vehicles that never showed up and failed to provide service, stranding thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities, seniors and others who are unable to take mass transit, according to a new audit released today by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. The audit found that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) allowed vendors to act with impunity, failing to monitor and correct problems or improve its Paratransit service.

“Access-A-Ride is absolutely essential for thousands of people to get around New York City every single day, yet this program stranded thousands of people, wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and caused untold harm and distress,” Comptroller Stringer said. “We found serious breakdowns in oversight and operations which have contributed to a culture of indifference and neglect by the MTA. After years of mismanagement, it’s on the MTA to take action now.”

Access-A-Ride services are mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires public transportation authorities to provide a paratransit system for passengers who cannot use public bus or subway services. In assigning Access-A-Ride trips, the MTA delivers service through a network of 16 companies. These companies provide service using MTA Paratransit Division-owned vehicles, such as specially equipped buses and cars, and for hire vehicles that provide transportation to ambulatory passengers through car services.

The Comptroller’s Audit examined Access-A-Ride services for which the MTA paid $321 million in calendar year 2015.

The MTA is paying contractors for services they never performed and then cooking the books to cover up their mismanagement.

May 9, 2011:

Over the years real estate and banking interests have been the most prevalent occupations of MTA Board members. At the Brooklyn Public Hearing for the service cutbacks held in March 2010, a small group of protesters raised signs critical of the MTA’s deal to sell Atlantic Yards for below market value. In 2009, a lawsuit was filed to that effect. But it was hardly the only questionable land deal under the MTA’s watch.

Hudson Yards

Several years ago, the MTA entered into a deal to sell the air rights over the Long Island Rail Road yards near Penn Station. Although fair market value was received in that deal ($2 billion), the MTA has been criticized for the payment terms allowing the developer to hold onto much of the cash for 30 years.

The Sale of its Midtown Headquarters

We can only wonder how the MTA’s latest proposal to sell three adjacent properties at 341, 345, and 347 Madison Avenues will turn out and if it is best to sell these as a single entity as the MTA has proposed, or if a better deal could be struck if the properties were offered as three separate sales? Would a single developer have to pay more if there is increased competition?

Two Broadway

This is not the first time the MTA has thought about vacating its midtown Manhattan headquarters. When 2 Broadway was acquired at the southern tip of Manhattan, the MTA’s original plan called for purchasing that property to enable the MTA to stop the cash drain from its short term leases at 50 separate locations. That was the rationale used to sell the idea to the MTA Board. It seemed to make sense because a property owned by the MTA would have some equity should the MTA ever decide it no longer needed that property, and with real estate values on the rise, the MTA could make a killing.

Don’t ask me how it happened but somehow a purchase turned into a 99-year lease instead. I am not a real estate expert, but I fail to see the advantage of trading 50 leased properties for a single leased property in one of the most expensive areas of Manhattan, especially when the tenant (the MTA) still has to pay the massive renovation cost to adapt the building to its needs. Further, the renovations, over budget and behind schedule, have been the subject of questionable practices, including accusations of mob ties – enough to launch more than one investigation.

Amazing how our so-called public servants seem to find ways to enrich themselves and their friends at the expense of the people whose interests they claim to service.

June 4, 2010:

On Wednesday, the Empire Center for New York State Policy released payroll data showing over 8,000 MTA employees made over $100,000, including overtime and extra pay, and an overall average pay raise of 2.4%. There’s a searchable database of the employees and their salaries, leading to factoids like “Eleven of the 561 employees who earned more than $150,000 in 2009 were Long Island Railroad car repairmen who earned an average of $167,342 – which was $102,477 over their annual base pay rate of $64,865.” Yup, overtime is costing a fortune.

The NY Times points out, “A Long Island Rail Road conductor who retired in April, made $239,148, about $4,000 more than the authority’s chief financial officer” and “more than a quarter of the Long Island Rail Road’s 7,000 employees earned more than $100,000 last year, including the conductor, Thomas J. Redmond, and two locomotive engineers — who were among the top 25 earners in the entire transportation authority.” (Related: LIRR employees on disability.)

This news comes as the MTA is trying to deal with a $400 million budget shortfall. The MTA released a statement saying the 2.4% wage increases “reflects built-in raises provided under multi-year labor contracts” and says the data does show the “MTA reduced its workforce and held down costs by foregoing management raises.” Plus: “The MTA’s $800 million budget shortfall for 2010 — caused by State budget cuts and deteriorating tax revenues — means there’s much more work to be done. We are in the process of overhauling every aspect of our business, including the elimination of approximately 3,000 positions this year. One key part of this effort is a focus on the work rules, pension padding and management oversight that leads to some of the unnecessary overtime highlighted in today’s report.”

And on perfect cue, the managers will blame the greedy union boys for taking as much as they can carry, and the union boys will blame the managers for being pampered egg-heads who ain’t down with the working man.

Meanwhile, neither side will stop raiding the budget for every dime they can get.

May 21, 2010:

MTA officials are locking horns with the Transit Workers Union over rules governing overtime and sick time. The MTA brass says employees have been abusing the system and costing the Authority $560 million annually; part of that big expenditure was caused by the 25% of bus and subway workers took more than two weeks worth of sick days last year. Now the MTA is assigning a task force to crack down on employees who abuse sick days. Of course, the union is up in arms about it.

“These bureaucrats, they’ve never done a day’s physical labor in their life,” TWU Local 100 boss John Samuelsen tells the Post. “And they would faint if they had to work under the conditions that Local 100 members work under every day.” Speaking to the Daily News, he fumed, “They demean their own workers publicly on a consistent basis, and they fail to acknowledge NYC Transit workers work in some of the most horrific conditions you can imagine. Several bus operators are assaulted every week, subway workers breathe in toxic fumes… We put our lives on the line to move the riding public, and when we get sick, the company tries to portray us as slackers.”

But some high-profile incidents have revealed that some NYC Transit employees have in fact been on vacation while calling out sick. And one subway operator made the equivalent of what he would have earned in five days by just showing up for three days and then working overtime. The MTA says he called out for unpaid sick time the other two days, but because overtime kicks in after each eight-hour shift (not after 40 hours) the operator made his regular week’s pay. And the cherry on top is that his replacement on the sick days was paid time-and-a-half!

MTA officials estimate that the OT belt-tightening will result in $22 million in savings this year, while the Authority faces a $400 million budget shortfall. Next year the MTA will try to save $60 million by reducing overtime, though that will require union consent, so get the popcorn ready.

Not only is the management gaming the system for every dime they can get, the union boys have their hands in the kitty as well, freely dipping and double dipping sick time and overtime.

This is the classic public bureaucracy set-up: Politicians looking for easy answers, managers who are out to enrich themselves and their friends at the public’s expense, and an untouchable union out to scrape up whatever hasn’t been stolen by the first two because, hey, they aren’t going to be the suckers who actually do the right thing when everybody else is doing wrong.

I have to give the Devil such credit as he is due. This is not a problem of Bill De Blasio’s creation. The problem can be traced to Albany and the state legislature’s implicit consent to the MTA board’s effort to put fresh paint on a burning house. De Blasio’s proposed solution is temporary at best. It is a sin tax, and like any sin tax, it lasts only so as the sinner perpetrates the sin, or remains in the reach of the taxing authority.

A long-term solution would involve reevaluating fares, manager pay and decisionmaking, worker pay, and MTA accountability practices. But that doesn’t play well to the champagne socialists and government unions that swept De Blasio into power.

You always dance with the one who brought you.

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