Thursday, September 15, 2005

When is enough enough?

I asked that last night when discussing market forces. But when it comes to big government playing with your money, nothing is ever enough. The New York Post reports (registration required, use bugmenot.com):
MTA MAKES RAILY BIG PUSH FOR $2.9B BOND

September 14, 2005 -- The MTA is kicking off a campaign this week to convince riders to back the state's $2.9 billion transportation-bond act, saying it is crucial to the future of two major subway-expansion projects.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has printed up about 15,000 large advertisement cards promoting the bond act that goes before voters in November, officials said. The ads will be displayed beginning later this week in agency buses, subways and commuter rail cars.

During a fund-raiser breakfast yesterday for the campaign arranged by New York Building Congress, MTA chairman Peter Kalikow told the hundreds in attendance that failure to get the bond act approved would spell trouble for the proposed Second Avenue subway and East Side Access, which would connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal.

"Without the money, without the infrastructure, this system is going to deteriorate, no question about it," he said.

The bond act sets aside $1.45 billion specifically for MTA projects, including a total of $900 million in start-up costs for the Second Avenue subway and East Side Access.

Both major projects are in line to receive a total of $4 billion in matching federal funds. But Kalikow warned that, if the bond is defeated, the federal money could go to other states. That would again put these projects on the backburner.


Referring to MTA ads, agency spokesman Tom Kelly said one would hang in each of the city's 5,000 buses and others on all of the agency's 2,000 commuter rail cars. For each 10-car city subway train, four of the cars will have the ads posted.

Kelly said the cost is "minimal" because the MTA is using money already set aside for in-house service messages like the now-famous "if you see something, say something" campaign....
Read the rest of the article only if you want to be sickened at the games that politicians and bureaucrats play with our money. The least of the problems is that the MTA basically says that the advertising money was earmarked as such anyway, so why not use it?

How about not using it for this unnecessary advertising, so that the money could be returned to New York taxpayers? Oh, but the MTA claims it's necessary. It wants to spend a little money to advertise a ballot proposal for everyone to give it a lot of money.

Second, whatever happened to the $833 million in extra revenue that the MTA reported last July? I noted its glee in getting all that unexpected money, and how the MTA wants to invest it in Manhattan real estate development. That money rightfully belongs to New York state taxpayers, not even commuters. Taxpayers pay the subsidies and rightfully deserve first relief. But can't the MTA at the very least apply the "surplus" to the bond request, and forget investing it when it has no right to?

Also note why the MTA really, really wants the initiative: they're worried the federal matching funds "could go to other states." How about not using any of that money so it can be returned to U.S. taxpayers? The MTA at sounds just like a greedy little boy who's already eaten his fill of food, but he wants more because he's afraid others might get some.

And why should any of you who don't live in New York pay for our subway system? Why should any of us who don't live in West Virginia pay for all of the roads and bridges that Robert Byrd gets built with federal money? Why should any of us who don't live in Alaska pay for a $1.5 million bus stop? We shouldn't, but our various levels of government don't care. The race at all levels of government is to get as large a share as possible of the federal budget pie, at others' expense. We see now that the MTA is like a greedy little boy at a pot-luck dinner: though he brought only a few cupcakes, he'll consume far more than his "polite" share. That's how Congress, and states that get federal monies, play the budget game.

Let's look at the amount of money being proposed: $2.9 billion. There's no way that the private sector would spend that kind of money for such limited use. What do people already do to get along Second Avenue? The same thing when I worked on the very far edge of the West Side, so close to the Hudson that I could look out and see ships of all types. You take the subway going down the middle of Manhattan, then you walk (or take a cab or bus) east or west as necessary.

Long Island Railroad commuters arrive in Manhattan at Penn Station, which is a major subway stop. The bond initiative would provide $900 million for Second Avenue and connecting the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal, which are only startup costs. Why should a special connnecting line be built when the existing subway system suffices, and when the proposed plan is nothing but a money sink? Additional trains would be needed to leave Long Island stations specifically for Grand Central. This would not encourage more riders at all. It would only split them among the two routes, because no one refuses to work in Manhattan just because he arrives at Penn instead of Grand Central.

The purpose of investing in an existing business is to grow it to serve more customers, not expand it unnecessarily to serve the same number of people. The MTA has no incentive to run itself like a business, because it gets subsidies from Albany. And with the transparency of tax withholding, taxpayers (not just in New York state, but all over) don't realize how much they're funding wasteful transportation.

The article notes that $100 million alone would be spent for "a direct rail link from Kennedy Airport to lower Manhattan." Of course, no mention is made that this new line would require additional money to operate and maintain. Perhaps it could be called the WE Line, as in White Elephant. Notwithstanding not every person arriving in JFK goes to lower Manhattan, if the fare is too high, people will avoid it and take cabs (which are more convenient, and many people every day are willing to pay for that).

Then there's a minor accounting problem: all these projects are only $1.45 billion, the article notes, exactly half of the bond iniative. Just where is the rest going? Update: I should say that the total is $5.45 billion, including the federal matching funds. Just what will New York City be getting for $6.9 billion, only 42% of which comes from state taxpayers?

It's clear that New York taxpayers, and others across the U.S., will not get their money's worth on this subway deal; not a snowball's chance in hell. I pray that New York voters this November will see right through this charade.

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