MTA Bailout Package From Albany Would Curb Spendthrift Agency

Eric T. Schneiderman

May 06, 2009

New York Daily News

By Juan Gonzalez

Lawmakers in Albany may have finally put some brakes on the runaway MTA.

Millions of transit riders can breathe a little easier now that the Legislature and Gov. Paterson have - seemingly - come up with more money to avoid massive service cuts, reduce a looming fare hike and fund a portion of its capital budget.

This time, though, the Albany pols didn't simply hand over more money.

Their rescue package may actually impose some needed controls on the way the MTA does business.

We're talking, after all, about an agency notorious for financial waste, for deception of the public, and for sheer arrogance.

The examples of the MTA's spendthrift ways are mind-boggling. Just a few that come to mind:

- The huge scandal several years ago over the agency's renovation of its new headquarters at 2 Broadway. Massive mob infiltration and corruption have brought the final price tag on that headquarters to $450 million - more than triple the original $120 million the MTA had projected.

- The new Fulton Street Transit Center, which is already three years late and $200 million over budget.

- The proposed high-tech security surveillance system approved after 9/11 to put closed-circuit cameras throughout the subway system to guard against terrorist attacks. The installation is three years behind schedule, while the cost has ballooned by more than 70% - to $452 million.

Last month, Lockheed Martin, which built the surveillance project, asked a federal judge to release it from its contract. Lockheed blames the MTA for repeatedly failing to close East River tunnels so the company could install needed equipment.

As for MTA arrogance, there is no better example than the agency's stonewalling of numerous requests from public officials to release a report it commissioned two years ago that catalogs its real estate holdings.

Even though it owns 14,000 buildings worth more than $1 billion, the agency won't release the information on the valuation of those buildings.

"It's important to know what property they have," says Gene Russianoff, lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign. "Their refusal just undermines public confidence in them."

"The MTA has built up such a reservoir of ill will and suspicion," said state Sen. Eric Schneiderman of Manhattan.

"Nobody believes them, even though the current administration has made some improvements."

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