"Forming coalitions" that will "address inequitable funding streams" was Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries’s answer to righting most of what has been wrong with NYC mass transit, at a public forum hosted by the Transport Workers Union of America Local 100 Wednesday night.
Marvin Holland, director of political and community action development for TWU, hosted the brief conversation entitled, “Reclaiming Public Mass Transit," held at Restoration Plaza.
The meeting was a chance for audience members to hear where Jeffries stands on issues most important to the union, the first public meeting between the two since TWU's official endorsement of Jeffries in early April during his run for Congress in the 8th C.D.
It was a public date between a campaigner and his PAC: TWU effused about how much they stood behind Jeffries, and Jeffries spelled out his family's history with unions and avowed his undying support:
"We don’t give out endorsements to incumbents or people who are involved in labor union; what we want are people who are good on the issue of transportation," said Holland. "We don’t have to guess about it; we don’t have to wonder about it. We know he will put transportation on the front burner."
Jeffries blamed the MTA’s problems squarely on the manner in which state and federal governments fund mass transit: “We’ve been trying to point out that you have to change the funding mechanism, so that there’s consistency,” Jeffries said.
He tied MTA’s volatile funding stream to its relationship with the Mortgage Recording Tax, which is evoked every time there is a commercial transaction and moves in accordance with the state’s real estate and housing markets.
“It’s a funding mechanism that’s inherently unreliable,” he said. “There’s always going to boom moments and bust moments. But I’m committed to making sure that [Congress] remains committed to getting that funding situation addressed at the state level.”
The problems at the federal level, he said, included an inequitable funding stream, in which 80 percent of the transportation money sent down to states is allocated for highways, while 20 percent goes to subways. But in a city like New York, where 80 percent of commuters rely heavily on mass transportation and only 20 percent drive, it creates an imbalance in how much is funded, and where it is funded.
“We’re being shortchanged, when you add this up decade by decade. So it’s no wonder that we find ourselves in the situation that we’re in today,” Jeffries said.
“We need to look at how we create a tax system that is fair. There are general funds that should be lined out for mass transportation, the same way we line out funds for education and healthcare.”
When asked how he would to tackle the 80/20 funding system in Congress, Jeffries answered, “I will have to form coalitions and identify allies to modify the way it is funded. You have to be systematic about it. I believe that if you systematically approach things and look at other cities that are equally reliant, you can build a pretty powerful coalition to get something done.”