Friday, 06 August 2010 00:00
Assemblyman Michael Montesano, along with fellow lawmakers and colleagues, held a press conference at the Hicksville train station on Aug. 2 to present their plan to reform the finances of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) with a comprehensive forensic audit.
The event comes on the heels of Montesano’s public call for Governor David Paterson to impound revenues derived from the MTA’s “onerous” payroll tax until the troubled transit agency can undergo a full and transparent accounting of its financial health.
The transit agency has been at the center of controversy recently. Montesano said that last month, news reports uncovered “phantom overtime” – $34 million in public funds will go to pay vacationing or absent MTA employees in 2010 – and the MTA has so far been unsuccessful in plugging an $800 million budget gap, despite a dedicated .34 percent payroll tax imposed on many Nassau County businesses and nonprofits as part of a 2009 bailout.
The assemblyman stated that according to estimates provided by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office shortly after the MTA payroll tax was passed in April 2009, Nassau County residents, school districts, not-for-profit hospitals and small businesses can expect to pay at least $122 million more each year in levies. He said that the new revenue stream has not been enough to balance the MTA’s books; however, it resulted in the recent hiring of a “consolidation czar” with an annual taxpayer-funded salary of $217,000.
The public authority also approved a slate of new fare increases and service cuts at a finance board meeting last week. After a public comment period the fare and toll hikes, as well as reductions to transportation services on Long Island, will go into effect in 2011. One of the major cuts includes the elimination of MTA payments to Long Island Bus, one of the largest suburban bus systems in the nation. The authority cut 11 bus lines in 2010.
Montesano co-sponsored an Assembly measure to hold the MTA accountable. Measure A.11265 would create an independent Fiscal Control Board and charge it with auditing the operating budget of the transit agency. The certified results would increase transparency and hopefully make proposed fare hikes and service cuts unnecessary, according to Montesano.
“Nassau County sends approximately $40 million back to the MTA’s loose pockets every three months, with nothing more than higher fares, more expensive parking permits, and crowded trains to show for it – the authority may even go ahead with the elimination of one of the largest suburban bus systems in the country,” said Montesano.
“Long Islanders cannot continue to bail out a broken agency; we need to enforce my comprehensive forensic audit today. I have contacted Governor Paterson and state regulators in order to demand that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority receive no further tax revenues until a nonpartisan Fiscal Oversight Control Board can establish the transit agency’s true finances in order to rein in out-of-control waste and inefficiencies,” he added.
“The appalling waste at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority must come to an end,” said Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R,I,C-East Northport), who was unable to attend the press conference. “It is time to submit their finances to a full and thorough forensic audit. Without a light finally shone on its broken finances, the MTA will continue to spend millions on water coolers, pay phantom overtime, and overcharge Suffolk County commuters to send our money elsewhere.”
“The proposed fare increases and service cuts are another slap in the face to Long Island taxpayers,” said Assemblyman Dean Murray (R,C-East Patchogue). “This is on top of a state bailout and job-killing MTA payroll tax while the rampant waste, mismanagement, and abuse at the authority go unaddressed. It’s time to bring long-needed oversight, transparency, and accountability to the MTA through a comprehensive, third-party forensic audit.”