In the new Local 100 Administration’s first public statement, Recording Secretary Benita Johnson slammed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for diverting funds meant for operating expenses into the capital budget. This has created a crisis of service cuts and fare hikes for students which didn’t have to happen, the union says.
“There are straightforward and practical solutions to the MTA’s budget woes,” Ms. Johnson told Assemblyman Richard Brodsky at the January 7th hearing before the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions, “[and] I am not talking about service cuts, layoffs, or the elimination of student passes.” Ms. Johnson testified at the hearing at the request of Local 100 President John Samuelsen.
Ms. Johnson pointed out that, over the past four years, the MTA has diverted some $500 million in operating revenues to pay for capital work on a “pay-as-you go basis.” This “raiding” of the operating budget to pay for capital projects continues to the tune of $50 million in the current year. Local 100 believes these monies could be better spent on restoring service to riders who depend on mass transit.
Furthermore, the MTA has declined to take advantage of the opportunity to use $90 million in ARRA stimulus funds to support subway and bus operations, preferring to use the money for such purposes as funding cost overruns on the Fulton Street Transit Center, scheduled to open in 2014. “We should all be outraged by this,” Johnson said, asking the MTA to join with Local 100 in supporting HR 2746, proposed legislation which calls for more additional operating assistance to mass transit systems.
MTA Chairman Jay Walder, at the hearing, said that he intends to see that “every single dollar is well spent.” Local 100 believes the most effective way to cuts costs is to shift reliance on outside contractors for critical capital projects to its in-house experienced workforce. In her testimony, Ms. Johnson documented three cases of cost-over-runs – the SONET system, the computer-based control system, and the Automatic Train Supervision System – which have added over $200 million to budgeted totals because of failures on the part of outside contractors.
In the area of labor relations, Mr. Walder did not indicate whether the MTA plans to appeal the decision by the State Court of Appeals recognizing the recent contract terms awarded through arbitration between Local 100 and the MTA. In a statement, Local 100 said, “We hope that the MTA takes its goal of making sure that “every dollar is well spent,” by not wasting taxpayer dollars on misguided litigation. Our members received a contract award which was less than the Citywide pattern awarded to municipal workers over the same period. To appeal the award after this point only continues to make a mockery of the Taylor Law, which calls for arbitration to settle labor disputes.”