Op-Ed | MTA fiscal tsunami requires federal relief

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Photo by Todd Maisel

By Patrick J. Foye

With the Senate back in Washington working on another COVID-19 relief package, we at the MTA are fending off a fiscal tsunami. We’re simply trying to survive the rest of this year, and the next one, with our finances mostly intact. But to do that, we need help and we need it now – in the form of another $4 billion in federal aid to get through 2020.

Without additional federal relief, we will be forced to slash and burn, including possible reductions in force and service, as we navigate the most severe financial crisis the MTA has ever faced. Everything is on the table: fare and toll increases, deficit financing and even delaying our historic Capital Program.

We are not crying wolf. The fiscal tsunami that is now crashing down on the MTA is very real, and should concern all New Yorkers. Our organization is losing about $200 million a week in revenues, from losses in fares, tolls, subsidies, and COVID-related expenses. To put that in perspective, we spend approximately $300 million a week just to operate the MTA. All told, we’re facing a projected, aggregate $16 billion deficit through 2024.

We’ve been doing our part to balance the books on our own – implementing a hiring freeze and identifying more than $1.1 billion in budget savings in 2021 and $5.13 billion in savings overall through 2024. Those figures include $340 million in newly identified annual recurring savings, from reductions in overtime, consultant contracts, and other non-personnel expense reductions. This is on top of $2.8 billion that we had already trimmed from the budget over the past few years, pre-pandemic.

But even with emergency federal aid and these expense reduction efforts, we will need to do more. There’s no question that we will be forced to make cuts; the only question is how extreme. Only Congress can answer that.

Our precarious fiscal situation should raise alarms across the country. The New York metropolitan region accounts for nearly 10 percent of the national GDP, meaning there is no full economic recovery without a robust MTA. Additionally, businesses throughout New York and the nation benefit from contracts with North America’s largest transportation system.

This is not a partisan issue. Business leaders, labor leaders and elected officials from all parties have recognized the gravity of the MTA’s financial challenges and called on Congress to step up. Senator Schumer and the New York Congressional delegation support MTA funding.

On Friday, we exhausted the $4 billion allocated to the MTA in March under the CARES Act. We can’t let the progress we’ve made in recent years go down the drain, plunging the MTA into the service failures and delays New Yorkers were subject to in the bad old days of the 1970s and early 1980s.

We need our national representatives to act urgently and responsibly — time is running short.

Patrick Foye is the Chairman and CEO of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in all op-eds are those of the author, and are not necessarily the views of amNewYork Metro or its staff.