Feds opt out of quarrel between N.Y. and N.J. over billions in COVID transit funding

·2 min read

New York and New Jersey are in a spat over mass transit funding — and the feds are steering clear.

The two neighboring states, along with Connecticut, have $14.2 billion of federal money but can’t agree on how to spend it.

New York State officials want the money distributed according to each state’s mass transit operating costs, an equation that makes the share for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority more than six times bigger than the share for New Jersey.

Both acting MTA Chairman Janno Lieber and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy sent letters to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg last month, asking the Federal Transit Administration to step in and mediate negotiations.

But the FTA is not getting involved, said agency spokesman Steven Taubenkibel.

“Federal public transportation law does not give the FTA the authority to make the determination on how these funds are sub-allocated among transit providers,” said Taubenkibel late last week.

Under two bills passed by Congress, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan, the $14.2 billion of mass transit relief is to be split among New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The argument by New York officials is based on the MTA’s $17.5 billion annual operating budget, far larger than NJ Transit’s budget of roughly $2.6 billion.

The New Jersey governor said the funding should be split based on previous federal formulas that gave the MTA roughly 16% of the money available nationally, which New York officials have long argued is unfair. The MTA carries roughly 40% of the country’s mass transit riders.

New York’s Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said Congress intended for the MTA to receive roughly $10.5 billion from the two bills to cover massive hits from the pandemic. Those hits include a 50% reduction in mass transit fares, which before COVID covered 38% of the agency’s costs.

MTA officials say New Jersey’s proposal would shave roughly $700 million from that total.

Both sides have acknowledged they’ve reached a stalemate.

“Congress intended that the last two Covid-19 emergency relief packages for transit be based on need, similar to FEMA assistance, not traditional capital funding formulas,” MTA spokesman Ken Lovett said in a statement.

“Even under New York’s proposed approach, New Jersey would receive three times as much per passenger as New York. We continue to reach out to our partners in New Jersey and Connecticut to resolve this dispute.”

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut must submit to the FTA an agreement to split the funds by Nov. 8 or else be ineligible for a $2.2 billion national pot of money allocated for transit agencies through the American Rescue Plan.

The FTA spokesman said the agency “looks forward to a consensus being reached by all parties.”

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