State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s latest audit “Financial Outlook for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority” overlooked other potential solutions to deal with the MTA’s $12 billion budget shortfall, by using existing Federal Transit Administration grant funding.
Financial viability of the MTA has always been a four way dance between farebox revenue, City Hall, Albany and Washington. There are $12 billion worth of FTA funding projects and programs in active open grants. The MTA has never initiated, completed and made public a forensic audit to determine unspent available balances.
The FTA issued guidance on March 13 that gave all transit agencies, including the MTA permission for reallocation of federal funding from capital projects in existing grants to reprogram these funds toward COVID-19 capital and operating expenses, Expansion of the permissible uses of federal funds allowed transit providers flexibility that they needed to deal with the virus.
Invoking the eligibility of the Emergency Relief Program also provide funds at a higher federal share within approved grants.
The FTA made available $1.4 billion worth of annual formula funding in 2020. The MTA could have programmed these funds toward COVID-19 capital and operating expenses. The MTA previously received $3.9 billion in CARE COVID-19 funding earlier this year.
Upon adoption of a budget for the full federal fiscal year 2021 (October 1, 2020 – September 30, 2021), an additional $1.5 billion in 2021 FTA funds will become available. This should occur by December, 2020. The MTA can also program these funds toward covering capital improvements and operating deficits as a result of COVID-19.
Why didn’t Comptroller DiNapoli audit all active open MTA FTA grants to make his own determination of what was available to be used toward COVID-19 expenses?
He overlooks the fact that Washington can’t bail out everyone. Our federal $27 trillion long term debt will grow $1 trillion more annually until 2030. The first series of CARE COVID-19 relief bills totaled $3.7 trillion, primarily borrowed money. Congress and the White House are negotiating another second CARE COVID-19 bailout between $600 billion and $2.2 trillion. How will we pay for this? Only government can max out its credit cards with no consequences. You can’t continue spending money you don’t have forever.
The private sector makes difficult financial decisions on how to use existing resources. Americans prioritize their own family budgets. They make the tough choices in how existing resources will be spent. If it can wait till later, it should be postponed. Why doesn’t the MTA do likewise?.
The President and Congress need to offset some of these costs by changing priorities within the fiscal year 2021 $5 trillion budget. Riders and Washington continue to do their part. City Hall and Albany should step up as well. .
Larry Penner — transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road, MTA Bus along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ.