MTA Passes 2021 Budget That Assumes $4.5B in Federal Aid to Avoid ‘Doomsday’ Cuts

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The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority this week passed a budget for 2021 that avoids proposed catastrophic cuts, with the assumption that the agency will receive at least $4.5 billion in federal aid. 

The budget will include cuts to the Long Island Rail Road, which will be reduced to 75 to 80 percent of its previous capacity, and the board did not take a fare hike in 2021 entirely off the table. 

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Nevertheless, the plan avoids a doomsday scenario that the MTA released last month, which included more than 9,000 layoffs, and service cuts as high as 40 percent on subways and buses, and 50 percent on commuter rail lines.

“Federal funding remains our best shot at survival,” Patrick Foye, MTA chairman and CEO, said at the agency’s board meeting Tuesday, adding that he did not use the term “survival” lightly. 

The MTA is expecting a $4.47 billion deficit in 2021 in its worst-case scenario planning, so the expected federal funds would fill that hole and leave roughly $30 million remaining. However, given the expected deficits through 2024, the agency is requesting a total of $12 billion in federal aid.

The federal aid would be in addition to the $2.9 billion that the agency borrowed from the Federal Reserve’s Municipal Liquidity Facility, a program introduced in April to help local agencies impacted by COVID. 

If the funding does not come through, cuts and layoffs could start as early as May, Foye said. But, with what he described as a “transportation-friendly” administration entering Washington in January, he was hopeful it would. Foye also acknowledged the recent nomination of Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and presidential candidate, as transportation secretary in the upcoming Biden administration. “I look forward to working with Mayor Pete,” he said. 

However, whether or not the MTA receives the funds could depend on the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia in early January, which will decide the fate of the Senate. If the Democrats win both races, not only will Democrats control both houses of Congress and the presidency, but New York Sen. Chuck Schumer will become the Senate majority leader. 

Schumer has been vocal in his support for federal aid for the MTA. “The whole economy depends on it,” he said at a press conference earlier this week, and called the funds his “number one priority,” on a call with transit activists, according to Curbed.

However, as of Thursday, Congress was hurtling to the finish line on a $900 million COVID relief bill that would include direct payments to Americans, as well as rental assistance and small business aid, but would allocate no aid for city and state governments.

Regardless of the federal aid outcome, City Council members and public commenters pushed back against the MTA on any rate hikes or layoffs, pointing out the importance of the agency’s employees to keeping the city running during the worst of the pandemic. Between March and June, at least 125 transit workers died of COVID-19.