It’s becoming clear that the key reason that the MTA suffers from a lack of state and city funding is a lack of understanding among public officials. Last week, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther blamed the MTA for the failure to place tolls on East River bridges – an issue that was squarely the responsibility of the state legislature.
Yesterday, City Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. (D-Astoria) blamed the MTA for something else that the agency has absolutely no control over: union salaries. Per today’s Daily News:
Protesters held up signs that read “Save Our Subways” while Vallone chided the MTA for granting an 11.3% raise to its workers over three years.
“You can’t give raises and then cut services. It’s Business 101, and they failed it,” said Vallone.
Vallone failed Labor Relations 101. The MTA and Transport Workers’ Union went into binding arbitration last January. When the arbitrator awarded the 11.3% raise to TWU workers, the MTA appealed the decision, citing among other things that the raise was unreasonable when the agency is in dire fiscal straits. The MTA did everything they could to stop this raise, but citing other city agencies receiving similar raises, the Union had the upper hand and a judge denied the MTA’s appeal.
Of course, Vallone would never fault the union for asking for and receiving such a raise in a recession, since merely criticizing unions is taboo among Democrats. Vallone prefers to entirely rewrite how labor negotiations work and claim that the MTA “gave raises” to TWU workers.
Vallone also fails to mention that non-union workers – including the MTA’s top executives – are taking a 10% paycut in 2010 to cover part of the budget gap left by higher blue-collar wages and a cut in state aid. The councilman may have conveniently left this out this fact, but considering his lack of understanding about arbitration, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if he didn’t even know.
Beyond all this, Vallone claimed that the city can’t do anything about the MTA’s cuts:
“A lot of people think that the city officials have control over this, but we don’t,” said Vallone (D-Astoria). “What I can do is speak out for my district, and that’s what I will continue to do.”
Vallone seems to miss the fact that the city controls a portion of the funding provided to the MTA. Coincidentally, the city’s $159 million tithe for transit operations has been virtually unchanged since the mid-90s. If the services provided to the MTA are so important to his district, why isn’t Vallone suggesting that the city step up their funding of the MTA? That’s certainly within his control. And on the same day that Vallone said the cuts are out of the city’s hands, Council Speaker Christine Quinn suggested that the city could cover the cost of Student Metrocards that the MTA can no longer afford to subsidize.
As long as the ill-informed have their hands on the money that funds the backbone of New York City’s economy, the MTA will be a New York politician’s favorite punching bag.