Archive for June 2021

Will the MTA return to normalcy? – By George J. Marlin

June 16, 2021

The following appeared on Monday, June 14, 2021 on The Island Now’s website: 

The past year was a tough one for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

Gov. Cuomo’s COVID-19 shutdown caused mass transit ridership and fares to drop to historic lows.

And while the state’s economy is rebounding in 2021, the MTA’s return to normalcy is proceeding at a much slower pace.

Many private-sector employees have grown accustomed to working at home and are not in a rush to be dashing commuters. Others concerned about their safety are loathe to ride the crime-ridden subway system.

This reluctance helps explain why ridership numbers are still pretty dismal.

At the end of May, the Long Island Railroad had recovered 37 percent of its passengers; Metro North, 32 percent; subways, 41 percent; and buses, 52 percent.

Only the MTA’s bridges and tunnels are back to pre-pandemic traffic. The explanation: people avoiding mass transit are taking to the roads. (In our own backyard, the Northern State Parkway and the Long Island Expressway are a testimony to this phenomenon — they are constantly clogged.)

To manage the severe drop in revenue and to balance its books in 2020, the MTA borrowed $2.9 billion from the Federal Reserve, diverted capital project dollars to the operating budget and obtained $14.5 billion in one-shot revenue in COVID relief from Washington.

If the regular income streams fail to return to pre-pandemic levels and if the MTA does not receive additional federal, state, and city aid, or cut expenses, it could get ugly. The MTA’s $54.8 billion 2020-2024 capital program, which includes 517 projects, could be jeopardized.

The office of the state comptroller agrees.

A recent report released by Tom DiNapoli made this observation: “In a scenario with low ridership and no new capital assistance, the MTA may also be forced to reprioritize its capital program, thus pushing much-needed repairs and modernizations further into the future.

A reduction in the program would risk undoing progress in making the MTA safe, accessible, and reliable.”

In these troubling times, New York City mayoral wannabees have been proposing remedies they believe will save or improve our region’s mass transportation system. Sadly, some of them are just plain dopey.

Take for instance candidate Andrew Yang’s plan calling for the city to take control of subways and buses.

That idea is not new. Back in 1984, gubernatorial candidate Mario Cuomo issued a similar proposal. He argued his generation should decentralize the previous generation’s consolidation of mass transit.

However, shortly after Cuomo became the state’s chief executive, the head of the MTA, Richard Ravitch, lectured him on the absurdity of his idea, and it was never mentioned publicly again.

Why is it a dumb idea? Because the MTA was created by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in the late 1960s to save the financially ailing and decrepit subway and suburban rail lines from ruination.

The key to the restructuring was the incorporation of the very profitable Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) under the MTA umbrella.

Toll revenue surpluses from TBTA’s facilities have been used to help defray the subway system’s never-ending annual operating deficits.

The MTA has also issued tens of billions of bonded debt to finance capital improvement plans that benefit mass transportation throughout the New York Metropolitan areas.

Such financing a city-controlled subway system could not do on its own. The financial markets that underwrite bonded debt would not have confidence in the City to manage the system let alone to come up with the dollars to pay off the debt.

Establishing a NYC Transit Authority independent of the MTA is impractical, and would only lead to a fiscal and operational meltdown.

It is difficult to believe that Andrew Yang is so ill-informed to make public such a ludicrous proposal.

The MTA is in serious trouble. And the recent leadership shake-up at the Authority will probably not help matters.

Therefore, if New York’s political class does not wake up and begin realistically addressing the MTA’s severe revenue loss and exploding debt burden, commuters will be left holding the bag. They will have to endure huge fare and toll increases, as well as service and repair cutbacks.

Welcome to NY: Fear City Redux – By George J. Marlin

June 8, 2021

This article I wrote appeared on the Newsmax.com web site on Friday, June 4, 2021.

New York’s Silly Season has arrived – By George J. Marlin

June 1, 2021

The following appeared on Monday, May 31, 2021 on The Island Now’s website: 

New York’s political silly season has begun and as always there’s quite a cast of characters.

First, there’s the revelation that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is receiving advances and/or guarantees from Crown Publishing exceeding $5 million for his book, “American Crisis.” That’s an extraordinary amount considering his previous book, “All Things Possible,” sold only 3,500 copies.

It so happens I have experience with publishers, having had 14 books brought out by various houses, including Doubleday and Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.

Typically, an author of non-fiction gets a modest advance—unless the writer is of the stature of David McCullough or Robert Caro.

After the publisher recoups the advance, an author earns, on average, a 10 percent to 15 percent royalty off the cover price of every book sold.

Now Cuomo’s book has a cover price of $30 and sold 50,000 copies.

Assuming a 15 percent royalty, that translates into $4.50 per book. Based on the math, 50,000 times $4.50 equals $225,000 in royalties—a far cry from $5 million.

The argument that Crown Publishing made a bad call and overpaid doesn’t fly, in my judgment. Publishers are not that dumb. Let’s face it, Cuomo is no Barack Obama, who commands large advances because of who he is and his past publishing successes.

Frankly, the Cuomo book deal smells fishy to me.

I’m reminded of the observation of the early 20th century Tammany Hall stalwart and longtime member of the state Legislature, George Washington Plunkit. The cynical pol championed “honest graft” and is best remembered for saying “I’ve seen my opportunities and I took ‘em.”

As for Cuomo finding the time to write the book: My latest work, “Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man,” took three years to complete. A year and a half spent researching and a year and a half writing approximately 150,000 words.

I do all my own research and no matter what anyone tells you, at best one can write about 1,500 words a day. Then there’s the time-consuming jobs of revising, proofreading, fact-checking and footnote assembling.

On top of that, I have a day job.

And so does Gov. Cuomo.

For him to research and write an 85,000-word book in six months, he had to have plenty of outside help. The question is: Were his helpers state employees performing book work on government time?

Next, there are the follies of the Democratic candidates for mayor of NYC who live far removed from reality in ideological cocoons or high-rise penthouses.

When candidates were asked the median price for a home in Brooklyn, former Obama Housing Secretary and Bloomberg Commissioner of Housing Shaun Donovan said $80,000.

Candidate Ray McGuire, a wealthy investment banker, guessed between $80,000 and $100,000.

The correct answer: $900,000.

Ronald Reagan was president when the median price was between $80,000 and $100,000.

Then there’s Andrew Giuliani’s surprise announcement that he will seek the Republican nomination for governor.

I find his candidacy incredulous.

His only mark on the political landscape: in 1994, as an 8-year-old, Andrew’s obnoxious behavior during his father’s delivery of his inaugural address at City Hall stole the show.

As a college student, Giuliani’s ambition was to become a professional golfer. Would-be golf pros, I have observed, have ne’er-do-well tendencies and are generally unemployable.

That may help explain why the best Giuliani could get was a political patronage job in the Trump administration as associate director in the White House Office of Public Liaison—whatever that is.

Since the Biden administration did not keep him on, perhaps Giuliani’s campaign slogan will be, “Please elect me, I need a job.”

Another Republican gubernatorial wannabee is Rob Astorino. He happens to be very bright and an articulate spokesman for the conservative principles I hold.

However, Astorino lost to Cuomo in 2014, failed to win election to a third term as Westchester’s county executive and last year lost a state Senate race in his home county. If you can’t win in your political backyard, you can’t win statewide. And for a Republican to be elected governor, carrying Westchester County is the “sine qua non.”

Well, folks, the political Silly Season is in full swing and it’s only June. There will be more to come between now and Election Day and I’ll pen regular updates.