Gov. Paterson’s pick to run the MTA, Jay Walder, took questions from state senators yesterday on Long Island ahead of his confirmation vote next Thursday. Senators will hold a second hearing (in Harlem) next Tuesday.
Here’s hoping that they do a better job of pinning Walder down on some key issues — like labor — next week.
Judging from Newsday’s account, Walder yesterday “avoided details on how he would address several of [the] MTA’s specific problems, and said he still has ‘a lot of catching up to do.’ ”
As examples of what he hopes to do in New York, Walder talked about several of his accomplishments as CFO and planning chief of London’s transit system, including, in Newsday’s paraphrase, “putting together the city’s largest capital investment plan in transit in recent history, expanding bus service, [and] developing an innovative and cost-reducing fare collection system.”
Walder also focused on credibility, telling senators that “the MTA has the responsibility to present information that matters and present it in a way that people can understand.”
Here’s the problem with Walder’s pitch: the MTA is already operationally competent (more or less) at everything he described.
The authority has already started making plans for a “smart card” fare system and is reasonably good at designing capital plans.
As for transparency: with key exceptions (like labor contracts), the MTA is pretty open about its finances and the like. It’s certainly transparent enough for any outsider to understand that its biggest long-term problem is its labor costs, which will reach $7 billion next year.
Bus service could be better — but in London, private contractors run the buses, under close government supervision.
So it’s dismaying that Walder had nothing substantive to say about labor yesterday, according to the Newsday account.
One important unasked question: would Walder pursue current MTA chairman Dale Hemmerdinger’s attempt to overturn state arbitrators’ recent generous award to the TWU?
If the arbitration deal stands, it will add hundreds of millions of dollars annually to labor costs, and it actually goes backward on hard-won healthcare-cost reform.
It’s vital to get Walder’s views on the deal before he’s confirmed — and get his ideas on longer-term labor issues in general.
Otherwise, it’s hard to see why Gov. Paterson felt the need to oust one MTA chief in favor of a new one at a 21 percent first-year compensation premium, in the middle of the worst fiscal crisis to hit New York in more than three decades.