Has Sen. Schumer made an illegal promise of funding for transit?


Dear Editor:

The announcement by Governors Kathy Hochul (New York), Phil Murphy (New Jersey), and Ned Lamont (Connecticut) concerning an agreement on the sub allocations of federal emergency relief funding apportioned to the NY/North East NJ Urbanized Area by Congress to deal with COVID-19 related losses in transit system ridership and revenues missed something that is not ethical and may not be legal.

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Negotiations started in March 2021. After nine months, they finally agreed that $10.85 billion of the funding will be for NY, $2.66 billion will be for NJ, and $474 million will be for Connecticut. Was it coincidence that Governor Murphy waited several days until he was sure he won to go public with this agreement? Had he gone public with this agreement prior to November 2, the election results might have been different.

These funds come from the Corona Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 signed into law on December 27, 2020. It allocated $14 billion out of $900 billion for transit and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and signed into law on March 11, 2021 to provide $30.5 billion for transit. .

According to Senate Majority Leader Schumer’s spokesperson, Schumer promised Senator Menendez that the MTA would give NJ Transit $75 million after receipt of the first $200 million received from the MTA out of the next round of potential discretionary CARE COVID19 funding from Washington. These funds would come out of a $2.2 billion national competitive discretionary CARE COVID-19 program administered by the Federal Transit Administration.

There is no formula distribution which would guarantee either MTA, NJ Transit or any other transit agency a portion of these funds. Why would the FTA make a grant to the MTA knowing that a portion of these funds would be passed on to NJ Transit? Here is the link for this program…https://www7.fta.dot.gov/regulations-guidance/notices/2021-19397

Distribution of these funds is supposed to be determined by the FTA Administrator based upon a formal review of all grant applications by agency professional staff. They use standard criteria for a level playing field that all applicants must adhere to. The promise by Schumer to Menendez is not ethical and may also not be legal. It is an insult to the FTA professional staff who will review each transit agencies grant application on the justification and merits. Schumer is not the transit “Godfather.” He should not be making federal agencies “an offer you can’t refuse.”

Larry Penner

(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. )