With the subways and commuter trains in crisis, Gov. Cuomo Tuesday introduced a bill to give himself full control of the MTA board.
“The MTA is in a state of crisis,” Cuomo said. “Historic underfunding leaves it with obsolete equipment going back to the 1940s. The bureaucracy is dysfunctional. The recent Penn emergency track closures on July 8 will be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Cuomo currently appoints the leadership of the MTA and has six voting seats out of 14 on the board.
Under his plan — introduced a day before the state Legislature is set to end its annual session — the MTA board would grow by two voting members, both appointed by the governor.
In addition, the vote by the board chairman Cuomo appoints would count as two.
“In sum, let’s fix the fundamental and initial mistake — ‘put someone in charge,’” he said. “The state is the obvious entity to manage a regional network, and the state contributes a multiple of any other jurisdiction’s funding. The simple fact is if no one has the responsibility and the authority, fundamental, rapid change of any culture or system is impossible.”
Faced with criticism, Cuomo has tried to argue in recent weeks that he does not control the MTA despite appointing its leadership team, taking credit for such projects like the recent completion of the 2nd Avenue Subway, and recently successfully calling for a fare discount for LIRR riders diverted during the upcoming Penn Station summertime repairs.
Cuomo says his bill, which insiders give little chance of passing before the Legislature leaves this week, is designed to give the governor the true power to run the system.
“Some people assume the state’s six voting seats are the majority and say the state has control,” Cuomo said. “Obviously, six is not a majority of the 14 voting seats, and many issues generate controversy that can cause the other jurisdictions to defeat the six votes.”
He said that has happened with votes on measures to increase local government’s operating expenses contributions.
A Senate GOP spokesman had no immediate comment on the bill.
Michael Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said the governor’s bill will be reviewed.
Charles Moerdler, an MTA board member appointed by former Gov. David Paterson, said it was only appropriate for the governor of New York to get a bigger majority on the MTA board, given the $ 8.3 billion promise Cuomo made for the MTA’s $ 32 billion capital plan.
“The governor certainly should, given the fact that he is personally spending as much time as he is on the MTA,” Moerdler said. “That is entirely proper.”
But former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who authored a public authorities reform bill while in office, attacked the Cuomo proposal as “a prescription for continued failure at the MTA.”
The MTA works best, he said, when it has an independent board with an independent chairman.
“The way to make the ride better for riders — which is all that matters — is for the governor and the mayor to put up the money and keep their nose out of management,” Brodsky said.
While Cuomo introduced a bill to give him absolute control over the MTA board, the legislative session will end without Cuomo having appointed a permanent chairman of the board that would need state Senate confirmation.
He also hasn’t introduced legislation to split the top leadership job into two separate posts — a change the MTA previously said it would seek.
Former MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota called it “a great proposal.”
“It’s obvious the governor cares about the MTA, so much so he wants to make sure he has absolute control — and that’s a good thing. The MTA needs strong leadership and that starts with the governor.”