Category Archives: new york city transit

The Sold Out Future By State Analysis Reprised

About a year ago I published an analysis based on U.S. Census Bureau government finances data, for all states and all available years from 1972 to 2016, that showed the extent to which each state’s future (with New York City and the rest of NY State analyzed separately, and the District of Columbia also included) has been sold out. Sold out by past decisions, non-decisions, deals and favors with regard to state and local government debt, past infrastructure investment, and under funded and/or retroactively increased public employee pensions.  The analysis was well received, and best of all many people downloaded the spreadsheet with all the data for all 50 states, all the tables, and almost all of the charts.  I always put up a post encouraging people to download the spreadsheets, look at the data themselves, and make up their own minds before reading my subsequent posts and getting my take on it. Generally people had downloaded charts, but not spreadsheets.  Last year that changed.

What I had forgotten last year, however, but have since remembered, is the multi-step process needed to put readable tables, in JPEG format, into the posts on WordPress.   So this year I added the tables to the posts I just completed on state and local government employment and payroll data from the 2017 Census of Governments, and I found that many people had downloaded them.  I don’t know why some people might prefer pictures of numbers to actual numbers, but apparently some people do.  So I plan to rectify last year’s omission of tables – except for people who downloaded the spreadsheet — from the Sold Out Futures posts with a brief reprise.   The data shows that while the blame for our sold out future is widely shared, New York City’s past taxpayers are the most the most blameless in the entire United States.  And New York City’s public employee unions and contractors have been the most unfair to other city residents.  And nowhere else is even close.

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Infrastructure: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

This series of posts based on Census of Governments state and local government employment and payroll data for March 2017 (and 2007 and 1997) continues with a post on infrastructure functions:  highways and streets, mass transit, air transportation, water transportation, government-run electric and gas utilities, water supply, sewerage, and solid waste management.  Along with related private sector activity.  When I joined New York City Transit out of graduate school in 1986, I was told it was the largest industrial/blue collar employer in New York City.  It probably still is, with the other functions described adding as many blue collar jobs, and jobs with contractors many more.

In the past 10 years or so, subway riders have experienced a drastic decrease in their quality of life despite rising fares, relative to the very low inflation of the period.  This is something I have attributed to costs from the past – the big pension increase in 2000, with huge costs deferred until later, and decades of zero state and city funding for the MTA capital plan, with money borrowed instead.  But after reviewing the data for these functions, I have begun to worker if even worse is coming. And not just at the MTA. But we will have water!

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Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for March 2017 (1997 and 2007)

The U.S Census Bureau conducts a Census of Governments every five years on the employment, payroll, revenues, expenditures, assets and debts of every state and local government in the country. (State-level estimates for state and local government are released in other years).   The data is reported by government function (police, schools, parks, etc.)  The Bureau recently released its employment and payroll data for March 2017, and I have spent a considerable number of hours tabulating it to get it into usable form.

I now have spreadsheets that show local government full-time equivalent employment (full time workers plus part time workers converted into full time workers based on hours worked), by function, for the United States, New York City, other areas of the state, every county in New York State and New Jersey, and other states and counties elsewhere in the country selected for comparison.  This is expressed per 100,000 residents of each area.  Selected private sector industries that are either substantially government-funded (health and social services and infrastructure construction) or a substitute for government services (private schools and automobile-related industries) are shown on the same basis.  And local government payroll per worker of each area, expressed as a percent higher or lower than the U.S average for that function, and compared with the extent that an area’s private sector earnings per worker are higher and lower than the U.S. average.  Similar data is provided for state government in for U.S. as a whole, compared with New York State, New Jersey, and other states I consider relevant.  This is a process I will repeat for the finance phase of the 2017 Census of Governments, when it is released.

As is my custom, this post will simply provide the data in tables and spreadsheets, explain where it comes from and how I tabulated it, and provide a brief overview of trends in total state and local government employment and payroll.  Function-by-function posts, with the data reorganized and charts included, will follow.  Read this post to fully understand what you are seeing.  Download the spreadsheets and look at the numbers to decide for yourself what they mean, before getting my take on them.  I’ll write more when I can.  But anyone else is free to use this information right now.

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Sold Out Futures by State in 2016: Debt and Infrastructure

Debt and infrastructure investment are supposed to go together.   State and local governments have operating budgets and capital budgets, and constitutions and charters that say that while money may be borrowed for capital improvements, the operating budget is supposed to be balanced.

During the Generation Greed era, however, that isn’t what has happened. For the U.S. as a whole, total state and local government debt increased from 14.1% of U.S. residents’ personal income in FY 1981 to 22.7% in FY 2010, even as infrastructure investment diminished. This was a matter of generational values, not just a matter of government.  One finds the same trend in business – more debt, less investment – during the same years, with the short term high of having more taken out relative to the amount put in contributing to perpetual political incumbency and sky-high executive pay.  A generation, it seems, has decided to cash in the United States of America and spend to proceeds before it passes away.

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Why Is the Right Answer for the L Train the Wrong Answer for the BQE?

New York City and city residents are going to pay a high price for the 14-month L-train (Canarsie line tunnel) shutdown.  With limited and already crowded alternatives, commuting will become hellish for hundreds of thousand of people, including those on other subway lines that will be impacted indirectly.  Some will move to other neighborhoods, driving up rents and creating housing shortages there.  Others might give up and leave the city altogether, at a moment when the availability of workers, particularly young educated or otherwise talented workers, has become the critical economic development asset.  Businesses and tax revenues will follow.

Faced with this reality, there were plenty of really bad ideas considered before the 14-month shutdown was approved.  Some wanted to rehab one track at a time to continue to provide very limited service, increasing the cost and time required for the project far in excess of any benefit provided.  Others demanded a new tunnel be built instead, at a cost of $billions, to temporarily maintain service while the existing tunnels were rebuilt.  But most subway riders have a limited sense of entitlement and a realistic sense of what the city and state can afford, given other priorities that are also demanding more and more money in exchange for decreased public services, and have accepted the L train shutdown, bad as it will be.

Then there is the replacement of the BQE viaduct under Brooklyn Heights, another necessary but disruptive project.  The plan for this seems to have been developed on a different planet.  Planet placard.

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An Open Secret: MTA Capital Costs Have Soared to Pay for Underfunded Metro New York Construction Union Pensions

I worked in capital budgeting for New York City Transit in the early 2000s, and was shocked to see the price of capital projects soar — despite a recession.   The MTA’s construction costs have continue to soar ever since, contributing to the agency’s $41 billion in debt and deteriorating infrastructure, and this has become a political issue since the New York Times series on the decline of the subway late last year.  Recently, MTA head Joe Lhota promised to implement reforms to reduce those costs.

http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20180808/REAL_ESTATE/180809900/mta-chief-says-he-s-doing-something-about-outrageously-high-project-costs

“On some projects the MTA has shelled out seven times more money than European transit agencies have paid for similar initiatives. Lhota said the agency is working to reduce red tape and the high risk that causes contractors to inflate their bids on MTA projects or not bid at all. In theory, increased competition would drive down costs.”

Or at least admitted costs, since “reducing contractor risk” means reducing the MTA’s ability to get restitution when the contractors fail to perform.

What I didn’t know back in 2004, but have since learned, is that the MTA’s contractors have been jacking up their bids in large part not to pay for current workers doing current construction, but rather to pay for the underfunded construction union pension plans. This is something the MTA isn’t talking about, because both the construction unions and the real estate industry, two of the most politically powerful interests in New York, each benefit from the shift at that private debt to the public sector in general, and the MTA in particular.

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Transportation: Census Bureau Public Employment and Payroll Data for March 2016 and March 2006 (And Related Private Employment)

One of the depressing aspects of reading the book Greater Gotham  is seeing, summarized in one place, how a generation built much of the infrastructure and created most of the institutions that make New York City what it has been and is today.   What a generation!  Most of the firsts – the Brooklyn Bridge, Central and Prospect Parks, the first Croton Aqueduct and Reservoir, the first rapid transit lines, etc. had been built before the consolidation of the five boroughs into the City of New York in 1898.  But after consolidation public investment went into a massive overdrive.  One in stark contrast with the past 20 years, when despite addition of 600,000 jobs, 1 million people, and $billions in additional tax revenues, the city and state have failed expand the city’s infrastructure significantly and, in the case of the subway, failed to adequately maintain the infrastructure that already existed.  That infrastructure and public amenities such as parks and libraries had been cash cowed and left to rot by the generations that departed to the suburbs, partially restored in a revival that few expected at the time (thanks to the best of another generation), but then left to rot once again by those same sorts of people who wrecked the city to start with, and who still control the state government, notably the state legislature.

But how many people are employed allowing New York City to fall apart, at the highest state and local government tax burden (excluding taxes on oil, gas and mineral extraction) in the country, while attempting to defer the consequences until another generation of insiders can retire to tax-free Florida?  This post will use data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, and Employment and Wages data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to find out with regard to transportation.

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