Category Archives: port authority of new york and new jersey

The DeBlasio and Cuomo Administrations: A Review

A public chief executive has three jobs: policy, management, and leadership. With leadership being using one’s influence as a public figure, in competition with celebrities and marketing influencers, to change what people voluntarily do on their own, rather than what the government forces them to do or does for them.  For state and local government, the key policy is the budget — who is made to pay how much, and what it is spent on, compared with the past and compared with other places.  Management determines how much in services and benefits people actually get for that spending.

Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo spent much of their tenures feuding.  They would have you believe it was over policy and ideological differences.  I believe their primary ideology is careerism, the advancement of their own careers to higher office, and this made them rivals — and the rest of us and our futures pawns.  Perhaps that’s why both “President” DeBlasio and “President” Cuomo left office widely despised.  

But what did they actually do?  Even as we just had an election for Mayor, and are currently having an election for Governor, the media doesn’t seem to be talking about it, other than issues of the moment such as bail reform.

Most people can’t do it, but one ought to separate what the pols do from the broader situation. DeBlasio and Cuomo didn’t cause the opioid epidemic, the surge in homelessness, or the COVID-19 pandemic, or in Cuomo’s case, the long-term economic decline of Upstate New York.  But they didn’t cause the economic boom and soaring federal debt that allowed them to pander to every special interest group without completely screwing anyone else except transit riders and the later-born (until the future) either.  With regard to the budget, I’ve created some charts that make a fair and perhaps telling comparison.  This post will briefly describe what I plan to do, with additional posts making the comparisons to follow.

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Sold Out Futures by State:  Debt and Infrastructure for FY 1972 to FY 2019

The federal government just passed a $ 1 trillion “infrastructure bill” that, for a while, will increase the amount of federal funding for infrastructure.  Most of the actual spending, however, will be continue to be done by state and local governments, just as has been the case in the past.  The modest increase in spending, adjusted for inflation, is intended to address a backlog of needed projects.  But federal funding is only one source of money for state and local infrastructure.  State and local taxes are another, and bonds, usually paid off over 30 years, are a third. 

The extent of infrastructure varies from place to place.  In rural areas the only public infrastructure might be a county or town road, supplemented by power supplied by a rural electrification co-op, and telephone and postal service cross-subsidized by those in cities.  Instead of paying for public water, sewer, and solid waste collection, people provide these for themselves.  In cities, on the other hand, there may be mass transit, public sidewalks, airports, seaports, public water, sewer, solid waste collection, and in some places public electric utilities.  So do low-density rural states spend less on, and receive less in federal funds for, infrastructure?  Do states with low past infrastructure spending also have low debts?  How are the estimated $1.4 trillion infrastructure spending shortage and the $3.2 trillion in state and local government debt distributed around the country?  Read on and find out.

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Sold Out Futures:  A State-By-State Comparison of State and Local Government Debts, Past Infrastructure Investment, and Unfunded Pension Liabilities Through FY 2019

In two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, with society under stress, we have seen increasingly strident political fights over whose cultural attitudes and preferences should be imposed on others, who should get to contribute less to the community, and who should get to take out more.  In the shadows, however, is a bipartisan consensus as to who should be made worse off and be sacrificed the rest of their lives to pay for it all.  Ordinary people in later born generations, those who will be living in the United States in the future.   The pandemic has given politicians of all alleged views, and the interest groups that back them, an excuse to do, to an even greater extent, what they have done for 40 years.  Cash in the common future to address the perpetual “emergency” of the present.

So it was in Washington in 2020 when The Donald and the Republicans, having already sent the federal debt soaring to cut taxes for the rich and then ran a federal deficit equal to one-quarter of the U.S. economy.

And so it is in Washington today, where Biden in the Democrats claim their plans will be “paid for” – meaning the burden shifted to the future would only be as great as it was under Trump and the Republicans.

It is in this context that for the fifth time, I have reprised an analysis of state and local government finance data from the U.S. Census Bureau, for all states and for New York City and the Rest of New York State separately, with data over 49 years, to determine the extent to which each state’s future had been sold out due to state and local government debts, inadequate past infrastructure investment, and underfunded and retroactively enriched public employee pensions.   You’d think that the extent of disadvantage for the later-born, and who benefitted from creating it, would be the number one issue in every state election, and the number one topic of debate in the media.  Instead, it remains under Omerta, especially here in New York.  Shouted down under the comforting culture war issues that Generation Greed prefers.  So, although standing up for the later born and common future may amount to nothing more than standing on the beach shouting into a hurricane as a social tsunami heads for shore, over the past month I have updated the “Sold Out Future” analysis with data through FY 2019.  This post, a national summary and explanation of where the data comes from and how it was used, and the next three, will show what I found.

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The MTA (and New York State and the New Federal Infrastructure Plan): Five-Plus Decades of Investing in the Suburbs and Disinvesting in the City

The era of large-scale federal infrastructure investment, from the 1950s through the 1970s, coincided with the era of suburban development and urban decline.  I don’t think that was a coincidence.  Cities had paid for their own infrastructure with local money, were still paying bonds for that infrastructure, and it was aging. The federal government then paid for brand new, up to date infrastructure for suburbs, and for rural areas that became suburbs, with taxes collected in part in cities, even as urban infrastructure declined.  Federal investment was limited to new infrastructure only at the time.  Most older central cities never recovered, and those that did only began to do so in the early 1980s, after the Reagan Administration cut federal investment and added local flexibility to how it was used.  More of it was then used to fix existing infrastructure, not just subsidize new suburban and exurban development.

Now it is 50 to 70 years later and the infrastructure of the suburbs is aging.  And because of lower densities, and thus more liner feet of road, water pipe, and sewer pipe per taxpayer, it will be more costly to replace with local taxes.  Some in the Strong Towns movement believe the suburbs are facing the sort of infrastructure decline the cities faced 50 years ago as a result. 

https://granolashotgun.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/teachers-pipes-and-pavement/

An issue that will be most acute in private communities responsible for their own local infrastructure, where people live so they can control who walks on their streets and not share a tax base with pre-1960 neighborhoods. Who will pay up when private sewage treatment plants fail and have to be replaced?  Did you hear about what happened at that collapsed Florida condo, where residents had argued for years about paying for fixes before disaster struck?

The older generations who live in these suburbs are used to getting things, but not fully paying for them.  The “I’ve got mine jack,” tax cut generations.  And here we have another federal infrastructure bill, enacted by suburban and Sunbelt Baby Boomers according to their preferred lifestyle, a lifestyle that poorer Millennials cannot afford and the global environment cannot sustain, to be paid for by those Millennials in the future, because most of it going to funded by soaring federal debts. With higher levels of governments (federal and state) making the choices as to how even the future money of city residents will be spent, how will New York and other older cities fare this time?

As an analogy this post will compare the suburban and city projects that the MTA promised in the Program for Action, released in early 1968 when it as formed, with the system expansions and maintenance of existing infrastructure that actually took place in the five-plus decades since.  And go from there.

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Transportation Infrastructure: 2017 Census of Governments Data

For as long as I can remember, I have heard in the media that the United States doesn’t spend enough on infrastructure.  And for as long I as can remember, more and more money has been spent on other, more immediate priorities, even as federal, state and local government debts have risen.

On the other hand, I have come to see all such statements, by all interests, as essentially self-serving.  “Studies” are produced by interest groups seeking more for themselves, and pretending that they will be paid for by money dropping out of the sky, not by having other people left with less, now or later.  These are replicated by a media seeking an easy story.

So how much has the United States spent on infrastructure? How has this changed over time? And how does New York City, where the transportation infrastructure is smaller than it was 70 years ago as a result of the loss of the West Side Highway, and the 3rdAvenue and Myrtle elevated rapid transit lines, compare with the national average? Census of Governments data will be used to find out.

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The National Transit Database: Comparative Operating Cost and Fare Revenue Trends from 2008 to 2018

It has been just under three years since I last downloaded and tabulated data from the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit Database.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/metro-ny-transit-costs-data-from-the-2015-national-transit-database/

Since the data is published every year, I have long hoped that some other organization would use the data and publish reports showing what it says, having someone else to it as part of their job.  That hope increased after the New York Times used the data as part of its series on the New York City Subway.   And after Governor Cuomo directed the MTA to hire a consultant to study “MTA Reinvention.”  Moreover, the NTD now includes a spreadsheet titled “Metrics” with almost all the basic cost and service efficiency ratios one might want to see. As of the date of this post that spreadsheet for 2018 is on page 2 (tab at the page bottom), though it will be moving down as 2019 data is published.

https://www.transit.dot.gov/ntd/ntd-data

There has been, however, no public discussion of what National Transit Database data shows about New York’s transit system since the NY Times articles.   So rather than allow this information to remain among the unsaid, I decided to at least analyze the operating budget.  (I’m not sure there really is a capital budget, since under the prior MTA capital plan, regardless of what officially passed, most of the money never actually arrived and most of the work was never actually done).

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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 wonder if even worse is coming. And not just at the MTA. But we will have water!

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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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Metro NY Transit Costs: Data from the 2015 National Transit Database

It has been a few years since I downloaded and compiled mass transit finance data from the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit Database, so I redid the analysis to see if anything had changed since 2012. Boy, it sure has. Between 2012 and 2013, based on that data, the reported operating cost of the New York City subway soared by 27.2% in just one year, an increase of more than $1 billion.   There were no similar spikes among other major transit agencies in Metro New York. Suddenly the share of the subway’s operating costs that is covered by the fare is merely somewhat better than Metro North and the Long Island Railroad, instead of much, much better. And the wages and benefits of NYC subway workers, per hour worked, are the second highest behind PATH among major U.S. rail systems, instead of lower than those of NYC bus workers.

I’m not saying the figures for either year are false. In fact, as you’ll read, I have a possible explanation. But the new figures sure solve a lot of political problems. For TWU head John Samuelsen, who came out of the bus division and might have been catching heat from subway workers. For Governor Cuomo and suburban politicians, who might have been catching heat for the vastly higher level of subsidy for the suburbs. And for LIRR workers and their unions, who might have been concerned that featherbedding and graft would become more of a public issue, despite their control of – actually I’m not sure which politicians they control.   But let’s take a look at what the data now shows, for 2015 and over the past 25 years. This post will cover operating costs, and the next one revenues.

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Infrastructure: Census Bureau State and Local Government Finance Data for FY 2004 and FY 2014

If there is one thing that virtually every public policy commentator and politician seems to believe, it is that more should be spent on infrastructure. And yet the direction of public policy has been in the exact opposite direction, with maintenance often unfunded or funded by debts that now soak up a large share of revenues dedicated to roads, bridges, airports, and transit, water and sewer systems. The trend has been at its worst in the Northeast. And as costs from the past, including pension funding and debt service, increased between FY 2004 and FY 2014, expenditures on the future – on the infrastructure – decreased when measured per $1,000 of personal income. It’s a trend that, according to anecdotal evidence, continues to this day, with consequences that continue to appear over time as the sold out future becomes the present.

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