It’s approaching midnight for the downstate New York transit system; do you know where Jim Brennan is? Brennan, the State Assemblymember assigned to my district, is the titular head of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, whose responsibilities include the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. That didn’t matter much until a few weeks ago, when Sheldon Silver was still in charge. Brennan’s deal was do what Silver said, and in exchange Silver and his interest groups would pretty much guarantee Brennan would face no elections, aside from a rare challenge of one Don Quixote
But suddenly Sheldon Silver is no longer the Speaker of the Assembly. With a new speaker in charge, no one knows what will happen. Suddenly it’s show time for this particular Generation Greed careerist, but he still seems to be hiding behind the curtain. And no one seems to be bothering him there.
The (last?) MTA Capital Plan expired nearly two months ago. The MTA Capital Plans don’t just pay for new infrastructure that those looking to move away or retire over the next decade or so could live without, but also for the ongoing normal replacement of the infrastructure we already have – and any operating expenses anyone can slip onto the capital budget to put them off. Put them off because the MTA has been forced to borrow massively for these ongoing expenses since the early 1990s when actual cash money funding from New York City and New York State was slashed, never to be restored. As a result the MTA is $32 billion in debt. But despite those “capital expenditures” lo and behold additional ongoing normal replacement is still required, on an ongoing basis. “You mean we borrowed all this money and the transit system still isn’t finished?” The idea that these were not ongoing expenses was yet another Generation Greed deception.
The MTA says it needs $15 billion for such ongoing work over the next five years, or $3 billion per year. Over and above the actual cash money put in by the federal government, the only level of government that has actually contributed significant cash over the past 20-plus years. Note that this is $billions with a “b,” not “$millions” with an “m,” the usual denomination of funds Assemblymembers such as Brennan generally deal with. In grants they get to hand out in exchange for not asking any questions about the other 99 percent of the budget. Note also that the MTA is already planning to borrow another $6 billion, albeit for the sort of system expansions that might actually be associated with additional revenues to pay back the bonds.
In reality the MTA doesn’t need another $15 billion to operate, maintain, and improve the transit system. It has plenty of dedicated funds to do that already, were it not for costs shifted to the future (now the present) by Jim Brennan and his generation to make things easier in the present (now the past).
If it is to continue to make the investments needed to maintain the transit system, the MTA also needs additional money to pay for all the debts run up over the past 20-plus years, pushed on it by former Governor Pataki and others. Debts authorized and gleefully piled up by State Assembly Speaker Silver, former State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, current State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Mayor Giuliani, Mayor Bloomberg, and all the minor politicians who voted for all the budgets over the years. Including Jim Brennan. Not to mention those on the MTA Board. And all the advocates who were happy to sell out today back when it was yesterday, because fares and tolls also were cut adjusted for inflation – for a while.
The MTA also needs money to pay for the massive 2000 pension deal pushed by then Comptroller Carl McCall, which benefitted transit workers who cashed in and moved out (and, to a greater extent, those who were already long retired). And all the other deals pushed by State Assemblymember Peter Abbate, and signed off on by all those Governors, legislators, etc. to avoid having the unions create actual elections and help keep challengers off the ballot instead. Legislators including Jim Brennan.
All these deals, to the extent the serfs were told about them at all, were asserted to “cost nothing” or “save money.” And they indeed cost nothing at the time, because they weren’t paid for at the time. Not until more members of Generation Greed could cash in and move away. Or at least retire with a public employee pension that is exempt from state and local income taxes, and thus any resulting tax increases. Do retired public employees also get parking placards, so they won’t have to ride the collapsing transit system with the serfs?
Now what? What does Jim Brennan have to say?
He has rarely poked his head up from under his rock, but he did surface at one point to oppose his generation paying bridge tolls in the past.
Look at that rogue’s gallery in that picture. After voting for one pension increase after another for their crowd, once the bills could no longer be lied about as much many of these same people then voted for drastically reduced pensions for younger generations of future public employees. Reduced below what Generation Greed had been promised in the first place. At far lower take home pay. Just as I had predicted. “Due to circumstances beyond our control” presumably, or perhaps so they could say their backers – the unions in general – “had sacrificed.”
The “great and good” took the “progressive” position that as younger generations, who are poorer and increasingly rely on transit, face a diminished future, members of their generation with parking placards (legal and illegal) and cars registered elsewhere to avoid Brooklyn’s high auto insurance rates (aka “real New Yorkers”) should be able to drive to Manhattan without paying tolls and park for free. Instead of having to ride subways, buses and bicycles with the serfs.
So now, instead of those 12 years of toll revenues we have had 12 years of debt. And instead of imposing a sensible toll system to pay to improve the transit system, it is once again proposed to put tolls on the East River Bridges and at 60th Street — just to avoid the complete collapse of MTA capital budget. Avoid that collapse for just five years, after which the MTA would be right back in the same situation, needing yet more money because all the toll money is going to pay off additional debts. “Isn’t this wonderful” the toll advocates say, hoping to attract the support of Brennan and people like him. “We can bond against the next 30 years of toll revenues, and spend all that future money right now!”
Speaking of debts, since we have people like Jim Brennan as our “representatives” we can always look to “creative solutions” by “problem solvers.” Like the ones we have had for the past 20 years, all of which have involved robbing money from today. Jim Brennan’s big idea for the $15 billion deficit in the MTA capital plan? Half of a $4.5 billion bond issue, or $2.25 billion. Brennan wants the MTA to start gradually abandoning the transit system through deferred maintenance, while at the same time borrowing $2.25 billion for patches to put off the worst consequences a little longer – and make younger generations and future New Yorkers pay even for that! So he could show he was “creative” and “part of the solution.”
The creativity was having it be a state bond rather than an MTA bond, so Upstate New York would also have to pay for it. Well I’ve been in Upstate New York a couple of times in the past few weeks, and I can tell you that once you net out all the money going here or there, Upstate New York doesn’t have the money to pay for anything. New York City is paying for Upstate New York, which may be trying to re-establish some kind of economic base after essentially degrading to a state-funded welfare economy over the past few generations. Not the other way around. And by the way, what Generation Greed did to the MTA it also did to the financing of the state’s road system, with a Transportation “Trust” Fund that is also broke.
(It isn’t accurate to say that New Yorkers trusted these people. It is more accurate to say that as long as it was the future being robbed, no one paid attention. And now it is the future).
So now what Jim Brennan? Will anyone ask him?
How about the New York Times editorial board, which said (indirectly, in 2004) that Brennan was one of two state legislators who were such reformers that no one should listen to anyone who opposed them? Perhaps the Times and Brennan could have a nice chuckle over all the additional future selling over the subsequent decade. Has the Times changed its mind? Too late. Younger generations, who need to hear the truth, don’t pay to read it anymore. Nor, given what the Times has endorsed by its silence, should they.
Unlike Jim Brennan, lots of Generation Greed politicians are slinking off into the sunset. Having acted as if they were saints, heroes and geniuses by handing out goodies to those with the most influence without any corresponding losses for others (at the time), they have left their replacements to be hated for handing out sacrifices without any corresponding goodies.
What has been amazing about the replacement politicians is their denial about the situation. So huge are their egos that instead of making “blood and tears” speeches and admitting that younger generations will be worse off, and trying to help them cope with that fact, they seem to think that everything will be fine – now that they are in charge. The denial started with Barack Obama, who was told by his yuppie economists that this was just another recession, rather than the collapse of an economic era, a recession to be ended quickly by a “timed, targeted and temporary” stimulus package. Until years later, after Obama had dumped them, some of those economists changed their minds.
In New Jersey you have Governor Chris Christie, who was unwilling to live with the public cost of his own pension reform deal, and has spent the last few months talking about national politics and ignoring his current job even as his state’s transportation trust fund goes broke.
In Chicago you have Rahm Emmanuel, who pretended that he would be improving Chicago’s schools rather than gutting them to pay for underfunded pensions. And who now wants “reforms” to defer pension costs even more to the farther off future, to avoid doubling property taxes while imposing even worse service cuts.
And new Illinois Governor Rauer, who believes that state’s entire state budget crisis – including years of not paying social service agencies for service rendered – could be solved exclusively on the backs of the young and the children.
And Governor Cuomo, who believes we are entering a wonderful new era because (he believes) the entire New York State pension crisis could be solved exclusively at the expense of future public employees. A very politically palatable outlook for the New York State legislature. We’ll see what he does about the state’s bankrupt transportation system. The smart play seems to be to change the subject, put nothing in, do nothing, and hope it goes away, or someone else could be blamed. The Senator Bill DeBlasio play.
Jim Brennan, however, is still there. Still hiding out, even with Sheldon Silver at least in theory no longer pulling the strings. Who should be made worse off, in what way, to pay for what you decided it was easy for you to do for 20-plus years, Mr. Brennan? How much should the future be made even worse in order to push things off another five years, until perhaps you too are gone?
Or might, defying predictions, you step forward, tell the truth about the past, and propose some sacrifices in the present (in an economy that is about as good as it will get given the new normal) to avoid making things even worse in the future? Go on. Surprise me. I dare you.