Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rockland County is not being short-changed by the MTA

Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef has been complaining for years that his county pays more to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority than they get back in the budget. Last year the county paid some consultants at Cambridge Systematics to analyze the 2010 MTA budget (PDF). They came back with a grave accusation: county residents and businesses sent $110 million in taxes, fees and fares to the MTA, but only got $68 million in services and capital improvements, for a "value gap" of $41.9 million.

Dana Rubenstein reports that on November 30, Vanderhoef wrote to the MTA, asking for an "exemption" for the county from the fare and toll hikes planned for March. "Common sense financial fairness would dictate, therefore, that Rockland County be exempt from the proposed fare increases," he wrote. "During my 20-year tenure as Rockland County Executive and a NYMTC Principal, it is with a deep conviction rooted in justice that I have fought for Rockland County’s fair share from the M.T.A. Rockland County is burdened by its orphan status as a New York community on the West side of the Hudson River—deep in NJ Transit territory."

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan shot that one down. "Rockland residents enjoy higher property values, Rockland’s Metro-North commuters bring home higher salaries, and Rockland’s overall economy benefits from the regional economy and its robust transportation system. Rockland’s contribution to the M.T.A. supports its entire system, benefiting even the Rockland residents who commute to NYC by car and who wouldn’t be employed as police officers or firemen or construction workers or teachers in New York City if there were no MTA to make the City run."

Aaron is completely right, but he didn't even need to go there. When this study came out back in March, Ben Kabak posted the story, and Larry Littlefield nailed it in a comment on Ben's post: "Everyone has a value gap because much of the money is going to the past. They just don’t want to pay a share of the debt."

Sure enough, Rockland's share of the MTA's $1.91 billion debt service comes out to $41.9 million. The so-called "value gap" is just Rockland's share of the bond payments. The Cambridge Systematics report didn't pick up on that because they decided from the beginning to ignored debt service. Oh, and all this debt was racked up under Vanderhoef's comrade in arms Governor George Pataki, who Rockland voted for in 1994, 1996 and 2002.

As Rubenstein pointed out, Vanderhoef has been complaining that the MTA short-changes Rockland since 1997. It probably wasn't true then, and it's definitely not true now. I'm glad she's found people to call him on this, but none of them seem to pick up on the point that the entire "value gap" is nothing but payments on the debt that Vanderhoef himself supported.

Should Rockland get better transit service? Absolutely. But not to make things equal, just to fix the county's broken transportation system.

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