De Blasio and Cuomo Face Off over Manhattan Subway Repairs

Quibbl Politics writer Rohan Alur discusses the latest flash-point in a long-running feud between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. 

By Rohan Alur

Manhattan’s iconic subway system is falling apart. A recent New York Times investigation heralded a grim new milestone in subway performance, with just 58% of trains arriving on time. The comparable figure in Chicago is 95%; in Atlanta, nearly 97%. The sprawling transit network famously depends on a manual signaling system which dates back to the depression era. As officials struggle to balance disruptive repairs against the need for immediate uptime, modernizing the subway has become a hot-button issue in city politics.

At the center of this effort is a high- profile spat between Mayor Bill De Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo; both Democrats, the two men have repeatedly blamed one another for the city’s public transit woes. Overhauling the subway falls under the purview of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), a state agency which administers public transportation programs in New York. De Blasio sharply criticized Cuomo for a recent plan which would divert a significant portion of the city’s property tax revenue to the MTA, while Cuomo has repeatedly complained that city is not contributing its fair share of the state’s transportation budget.

Most recently, the chairman of the MTA unveiled a sweeping $836 million plan to carry out badly needed emergency repairs, asking that the city contribute half of the total amount. De Blasio has so far scoffed at this request, pointing to his administration’s existing pledge to allocate $2.5 billion for long-term modernization efforts. Instead, the mayor has proposed a so-called “millionaires’ tax” on the city’s wealthier residents to pay for upgrades and subsidize ridership for low-income commuters. This plan – which must be approved in the state legislature – was met with a tepid response in Albany, where Cuomo suggested that the state would consider it only after emergency repairs were addressed. Other proposals have suggested a hefty congestion tax on drivers to reduce traffic and fund public transit initiatives. Will New York City contribute more than half of the $418 million requested by the state for emergency subway repairs? Will De Blasio’s proposed “millionaires’ tax” to fund subway upgrades be adopted by the state legislature?

The conflict between De Blasio and Cuomo has also grabbed national attention as a proxy battle in the struggle between the progressive left-wing of the Democratic party and the more moderate, pro-business camp. De Blasio, who represents the former, has often clashed with the Governor over proposed tax increases, while Cuomo has repeatedly slammed the mayor for mismanaging the city’s public housing crisis. Cuomo and De Blasio are widely assumed to have ambitions for national office, with many commentators suggesting that both men are considering a run for the party’s presidential nomination in 2020. Will De Blasio run for president in 2020? Will Cuomo run for president in 2020?

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