As a lifelong New Yorker and someone who has had the opportunity to attend ABNY events for years, it is truly an honor to be standing at this podium.
If you have an idea about something that’s wrong in our great City, or a way to make it right, ABNY is the testing ground.
If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.And that’s the way it’s been for forty years.
All of you come here because you believe there’s something special about this City….
That New York is worth fighting for in good times and bad….
And that there is no challenge that New Yorkers cannot solve.
I believe that -- to my core.
And that’s why this morning I want to talk about one of the biggest challenges we face today.
Not because I have an easy answer for it.
Not because I’ve discovered a quick fix.
But precisely because it’s a challenge that defies easy answers, we have to tackle it – together.
One hundred years ago, New York embarked on a revolutionary plan to build subways and elevated trains to the farthest reaches of our City.
One shovel at a time, our forebearers created a public transportation network that remains one of the great urban marvels of our time.
Take a look at the images you found at your seat this morning – it shows the 7 line in Woodside, just before it opened in 1917.
We built a subway line into the fields of Queens with the firm belief that if we build it, they would come.
And they sure did.
Within a decade, Queens Boulevard would become a bustling thoroughfare—New Yorkers of every race, color and class drawn to the promise of a quick ride to work in the morning and a timely return at night.
The bottom image shows the neighborhood today—the core of the City’s biggest borough and a fast-growing job corridor for the 21st century economy.
Thanks to this kind of visionary thinking, New Yorkers now account for two thirds of the nation’s daily rail commuters and almost a quarter of its bus passengers.
It’s a legacy to be proud of.
But as we sit here this morning, the future doesn’t look as bright. One million more people will be living here by 2025, and to put it bluntly:
We are not ready.
We have a basic problem: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority—the central nervous system of our regional transit network-- is a fiscal house of cards.
That’s not just bad for straphangers. Without a healthy MTA, our region’s 1.2 trillion dollar economy could come to a screeching halt.
Without action, we risk becoming a first-class city with a second-rate transportation network. We cannot let that happen.
I am here this morning to offer a roadmap for placing the MTA on more stable financial footing and safeguarding our region’s economic future.
But before we can discuss how to fix transit, we have to understand the scope of the problem.
Today, the MTA is being held together with a combination of unprecedented borrowing, and fare hikes as far as the eye can see.
I commend my good friend Joe Lhota for his leadership of the Agency. But the fact remains that Joe has inherited an organization that is financially broken.
The fundamental problem is a lack of reliable funding streams for transit.
Los Angeles has dedicated revenues for operations and capital projects.
But here in New York, we rely on a patchwork of fees and taxes for operating costs. And we have no dedicated source of capital funding.
The Federal government helps, but Washington is not the only answer. Congressman Nadler and the New York delegation have fought tirelessly to get the City its fair share – even in the face of political opponents hell-bent on cutting transit investments.
The health of our system cannot be held hostage to the dysfunction of Washington.
Fare hikes also aren’t the answer. The MTA is already balancing its books on the backs of working people.
New Yorkers pay a fare box ratio higher than passengers in almost every other city.
That doesn’t even factor in fare increases already planned for this winter and 2015.
Now think about this. From 1904 to 1966, the fare was raised twice. Twice in 62 years!
Now, we’re raising fares 7.5% every two years—that’s nearly twice the rate of inflation.
So do the math – if fares continue to rise at the current clip, my newborn son Max will pay $200 for an unlimited MetroCard by the time he graduates high school – double today’s cost.
Folks, I can’t afford that and neither can you!
In addition to fare hikes, the MTA’s reliance on debt has soared, saddling our children and grandchildren with billions in future payments.
Right now, over $2 billion a year is spent on debt service, already double what was spent in 2005. By 2018, debt service will reach over $3 billion a year.
Governor Cuomo should be applauded for recently dedicating $770 million to the Authority’s capital program.
Thanks to decisive action by the Governor and the Legislature, we now have a window of opportunity to create a truly long-term plan for stabilizing the MTA – not just for us, but generations to come.
And we must grab that opportunity. Because the time for kicking the can down the road is over.
We are the leaders of the moment and we must make the tough choices and take responsibility for the future of this City.
None of this gets done unless all of us do the painstaking work of building consensus from the ground up.
I know something about this.The expansions of NYU, Fordham and Columbia could not have happened without taking the time to forge real partnerships.
The same old, top down, approach would have failed us.
Only with a similar approach, I believe we can get back to building a public transit system that is worthy of New York.
Part of the solution must be to make the MTA more efficient – to cut waste and start delivering big projects on time, on budget, at a cost in line with the rest of the world.
Folks, there is no reason why building a subway in New York should cost four, five, even six times more than in London, Paris, or Tokyo.
We can’t be throwing precious dollars at projects like the Fulton Street station in Lower Manhattan.
That station is costing taxpayers 1.4 billion dollars and will do nothing to add capacity when work finally ends in 2014.
Instead, we must be disciplined and choose efficient, smart projects that improve connectivity and add capacity to our system.
You know, New Yorkers will support additional dollars for transit only when they believe that their hard-earned cash is being spent wisely.
This morning, I want to offer a plan – an infrastructure bank for mass transit that I call the “New York City Transit Trust.”
Mayors across the country are recognizing that Cities cannot rely solely on state and federal funding for infrastructure.
In Chicago, Rahm Emanuel has launched an Infrastructure Trust to leverage private capital for needed projects. While the Chicago plan is visionary, it does not yet identify how to pay for the projects it supports.
Under my plan, the New York City Transit Trust will also leverage private dollars, but will do so responsibly, by tying the infrastructure bank to a dedicated revenue stream – our existing Mortgage Recording Tax.
Now as many of you know, the Mortgage Recording Tax is a fee that gets paid every time property changes hands in the City and the 7-county MTA region. Today, those fees flow directly into the MTA’s operating budget.
Now, unfortunately, the MRT is a horrible source of operating funds – it swings wildly from year to year, making solid projections very tough.
At the height of the housing bubble, the Mortgage Recording Tax and other transfer taxes generated $1.5 billion for the city and the MTA. But by last year, with a flat market, revenues dropped 75 percent to just $400 million.
Relying on a source of revenue that can plunge 75 percent over a five year span is no way to run a railroad, much less the nation’s largest transit system.
Over the long haul, however, we know that the Mortgage Recording Tax brings in an average of $400 million a year.
A dedicated revenue stream of that size can be used to leverage over $10 billion in capital that could be quickly put to work.
So today I call on the State Legislature to re-direct the Mortgage Recording Tax from operating to capital and to create the first-ever New York City Transit Trust.
The Trust will give pension funds an opportunity to invest some of their dollars in projects that promote the public good and offer stable returns.
This is something that Mike Fishman at Local 32BJ and other labor leaders have already called for.
A fully funded MTA capital plan has the capacity to support a quarter of all construction jobs in the region—20,000 jobs a year. And those are good, middle class jobs.
All we need is leadership – leadership that recognizes that real investment in transit projects always yields huge dividends down the road, and that there are new, more creative ways to fund those projects.
Of course, we will have an additional challenge…
If we are going to use the Mortgage Recording Tax to finance MTA capital needs, we have to replace it on the operations side with a new, reliable funding stream
Now, there is no shortage of big ideas out there.
Dick Ravitch engineered the payroll mobility tax, which brings in over $1 billion a year for Transit.
Sam Schwartz’s “Fair Plan” would also raise $1 billion a year, mostly by charging drivers for entering Manhattan’s central business district.
Many states have explored vehicle-miles-traveled fees, a modern update to the gas tax that could revolutionize the way we maintain our roads and rails.
All of these ideas deserve serious consideration.
I think we should add another to the list – namely, getting back what we lost when the commuter tax was repealed in 1999.
Now here me out….
The commuter tax produced billions of dollars in revenue for New York City between 1966 and 1999, when it was eliminated as part of a cynical political deal.
If we brought it back it at the same rate, we would generate $725 million a year to support the region’s transit network.
While the commuter tax used to go to the City’s general fund, under my plan, it would be dedicated to the MTA so that all New Yorkers—City residents and suburban commuters alike—will benefit.
The Long island Railroad and Metro-North are integral parts of our transit network, and now is the time to partner with our suburban neighbors to make sure that new regional revenues pay for truly regional improvements.
The truth is that MTA capital projects benefit suburban commuters as well as NYC residents. When East Side Access opens in 2018, for instance, it will save 80,000 Long Island commuters over a half-hour each day.
Everyone needs to pitch in if we want similar expansion going forward.
The commuter tax is exactly the kind of steady revenue stream we would need to responsibly transfer the Mortgage Recording Tax to the capital side of the ledger and seed our Transit Bank.
My friends, this plan isn’t about political gamesmanship. It’s about everyone paying their fair share.
Every day, close to a million commuters pour into New York City, using our roads, bridges and rails to get here and relying on our police, fire and sanitation services when they arrive.
All we’re asking for is to bring back a small surcharge of 0.45%.
By any measure, that is a heckuva bargain for suburban commuters, as Mayors Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani never failed to remind us.
I know none of this will be easy. Getting the MTA on firm financial footing will require serious thought and tough choices.
But I gotta tell ya— when you think about what an infrastructure bank and a renewed commuter tax can do for this region, the benefits are endless….
We’ll spare our kids and grandkids a lifetime of skyrocketing fares...
We’ll stop piling up billions in debt…
And most importantly, with the spirit that animated our forebearers a century ago, the Transit Trust will help us build a system that prepares the City for the next 100 years of growth.
We should begin by expanding our Bus Rapid Transit network. BRT may not be the sexiest investment, but it’s smart and it works.
Routes along Fordham Road in the Bronx and First and Second Avenues in Manhattan have cut travel time and increased ridership dramatically.
The MTA and city DOT have already begun to map where BRT should be expanded and I commend Mayor Bloomberg for his smart, long-term planning.
With a city Transit Trust, we could ramp this up dramatically.
These new routes will serve growing job centers like Flushing and Flatbush, which in recent years have grown nearly three times as fast as Manhattan.
While Manhattan will always be the heart of the region’s economy, more and more New Yorkers are living and working in all five boroughs.
We need a transit system that reflects where people live and work today, not 100 years ago.
Now, BRT is one smart solution.Another is light rail – which is cheaper, faster, and more efficient than the subways of old.
In 2000, New Jersey brought Light Rail to Hudson and Bergen counties. Today daily ridership approaches 50,000.
We should do the same in New York.
Light rail down the center of 42nd Street could replace the painfully slow M42 bus. And light rail could connect Red Hook, CarrollGardens, and the Navy Yard in Brooklyn.
And let’s face it – it’s absurd that LaGuardiaAirport cannot be reached by rail.
The Port, the MTA, and DOT should work together to build an AirTrain to LaGuardia, just like we did to Kennedy.
BRT and light rail are within our grasp today. But we should not give up on thinking big and expanding our subway system.
One idea championed by the Regional Plan Association is the X Line.
The X Line would connect all but three subway lines in the city and join Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, which no other line does today.
Here’s why it is not a pipe dream: The line is built entirely along existing rights of way.
That means no tunneling, which is the biggest hurdle in this day and age to building new subways.
These are just some of the projects that the New York City Transit Trust can fund in coming decades.
Yes, it will be hard. But it’s time to do the hard things. The question is whether we—all of us in this room -- can summon the will and imagination to make it happen.
The City will have an opportunity to hit the re-set button on a host of issues, come January 2014.
But no matter who the next mayor is, we need to start thinking today about our transit future.
Because make no mistake: this is gut-check time.
This is about building the infrastructure for success.
It’s about attracting talent and keeping it here.
It’s about minimizing the frustration of getting to work and the uncertainties of getting home.
And it’s about cementing New York’s status as a world class city.
We cannot afford to fail.
We need to decide whether we are going to accept the unsustainable status quo, or whether we are going to set the MTA on a firm foundation.
We need to decide whether we are going to build a transit infrastructure for the 21st century, or whether we are going to chip away at a system left behind by our forbearers.
I believe we need to get back to an era in which public transportation is acknowledged as an essential civic responsibility—right alongside public safety and education.
And we need to start exploring solutions that protect middle class workers from shouldering most of the burden, and set us on a path toward real growth.
That’s how you create the City of Tomorrow.
Thank you very much.
Office of Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer • 212.669.8300
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The Manhattan Borough Presidentís Office is an Equal Opportunity Employer.