Thursday, June 03, 2010

Running on Empty

The illuminating article in this morning’s NY Times concerning outsized worker compensation is a window into the soul of the bloated and unaccountable MTA: “In an era of generous municipal salaries and union-friendly overtime rules, it may not come as a complete shock that there are thousands of Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees — 8,074, to be precise — who made $100,000 or more last year.”

Now, as the Times points out, the list of beneficiaries of this inane spending spout is not restricted to upper level management-and it seems that everyone’s living large at the tax payers’ (and commuters’) expense: “The usual top-level managers are included in that list, but so are dozens of lower-level employees, including conductors, police officers and engineers, many of whom pulled in six figures in overtime and retirement benefits alone. One of those workers, a Long Island Rail Road conductor who retired in April, made $239,148, about $4,000 more than the authority’s chief financial officer, according to payroll data released on Wednesday.”

Or, as Yacov Smirnoff used to say, What a country!” And this entire largess underscores why we were so vehemently opposed to the Bloomberg congestion tax and the Ravitch toll house cookie-with the proceeds in both schemes scheduled to be conveyed to none other than the state’s featured black hole of an agency. As we said three years ago when the tolls were finally put to rest: “Well, the deal to bail out the MTA was finally struck and voted on yesterday; but the state's unaccountable money pit is still standing-poised for future cash outlays with no relief in sight. In spite of the failure to really reform and revamp the agency, however, city motorists were spared the tolls that one and all claimed was absolutely necessary to save the system: "In December, a state commission appointed by Paterson, and headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch, recommended a payroll tax and tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges to raise transit subsidies. Tolls, however, were opposed by a handful of Senate Democrats."

We should also remind people that it wasn’t that long ago when state senate Dems were excoriated for trying to take on-and cleanse-this unpublic authority. As we pointed out at the time: “All of a sudden there are pols and their enablers who have been struck with amnesia-so swift are they to tax the folks for an MTA that rivals AIG in a complete lack of accountability or transparency. To listen to the geshrei from the critics of the Senate majority's plan to rescue the MTA from...well, itself, you'd think that they'd just stiffed the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

So in our view, any tax and/or toll scheme that involves sending additional dollars over to the MTA is plain sick-and we’re waiting for the new governor to come in and commence the Herculean task of disinfecting the MTA stable: “In fact, more than a quarter of the Long Island Rail Road’s 7,000 employees earned more than $100,000 last year, including the conductor, Thomas J. Redmond, and two locomotive engineers — who were among the top 25 earners in the entire transportation authority. The authority is readying service cuts to close a budget shortfall of $400 million, and its chairman, Jay H. Walder, has said he plans to reel in runaway overtime costs, which pile up to $560 million annually.”

And the MTA’s predicament is analogous to that of NY State government itself-a point that we made yesterday. It has become too large and expensive-and as the Times pointed out in the above quote, the bloat impacts the ability to provide the core services that taxes and fees are supposed to cover.

Instead, both the agency and the state are faced with a work force that it can’t afford-and the crippling effects of the phenomenon need a radical solution. We’ll give the Times the last word: “Around 60 percent of the authority’s current budget — about $7 billion — is used to pay labor costs including payroll, pensions, and overtime.