The PCAC welcomed Assemblyman James Brennan as speaker for its September quarterly meeting. Brennan represents the 44th Assembly District in Brooklyn, which contains sections of Park Slope, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood and Windsor Terrace. Mr. Brennan serves as Chair of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions and as a member of the committees on Codes; Education; and Real Property Taxation. He has been in the State legislature for 27 years.
He began his talk by declaring his support for transit, having grown up on the lower East Side of New York City. He noted that the current economic conditions have contributed to the financial problems of the MTA. The dedicated taxes from the state declined by one-third; real estate taxes dropped from $1.6 billion to $400 million; and the recently enacted payroll mobility tax did not fulfill expectations. As a result, the MTA was forced to enact layoffs, fare hikes and service cuts. He admitted that the State was partially to blame as funds that should have gone to transit ($143 million) were taken by the State. He praised Chairman Walder for making the MTA more efficient and observed that Walder’s departure is a wake-up call to Governor Cuomo. The Governor will now have to take ownership of the system as the new Chairman will be his appointee.
Brennan said that he will recommend to Governor Cuomo that there be another Transportation Bond Act for $4 billion — half to the MTA and half to Roads and Bridges. This would provide some needed relief to the MTA. He expressed concern for the capital program, especially in light of the fact that 24% of construction employment in the Metro area is involed in MTA capital projects. When asked about congestion pricing and/or tolling the East River Bridges, he said he supported this strategy to provide a reliable funding source, but that there is strong resistance from Long Island, Brooklyn and Staten Island elected officials.
Brennan mentioned that at the end of the last session, the legislature passed a “locked box” bill (S04257C and A 6766-C) which prohibits diversion of resources from dedicated funds derived from taxes and fees that support the MTA. This is not an absolute prohibition; rather the bill requires that a diversion impact statement be issued, which would include a detailed estimate of any resulting effect on the level of mass transit service, maintenance, security and capital program. This bill is awaiting the Governor’s signature. PCAC Chair Ira Greenberg asked what it would take to get a real locked box for MTA funds. Assemblyman Brennan replied that the State constitution would have to be amended, i.e., approval from both Houses of two consecutive legislatures, and approval of the voters. Given this is not a likely scenario, the best alternative appears to be this current impact statement legislation that would make the State take responsibility for adverse outcomes when needed dollars are taken from the MTA.