After ski resort spending fiasco, a Queens senator wants state to stop diverting MTA funds

Photo via Shutterstock

The MTA gave $4.9 million to three struggling upstate ski resorts last year at the governor’s request instead of funneling it into the state Division of the Budget (DOB), and one Queens lawmaker is arguing that the cash-strapped agency should not be footing the bill.

The Daily News first reported on July 10 that the MTA had given millions to the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) in March 2016. The public authority operates the Belleayre, Gore and Whiteface ski resorts, which have experienced the worst winter on record during the 2015-2016 season.

ORDA’s operating revenue dropped 25 percent from last season, to $8.8 million and much of it was due to the warmer weather.

Morris Peters, a spokesperson for the DOB, told QNS that by law public authorities must reimburse the state for certain expenses and that the state “subsidizes the MTA by more than 1,000 times the accounting reimbursements.”

The state performs services for the MTA including administering highway funds, processing transit aid payments, providing oversight on grade-crossing projects, helping with bridge inspection data and providing snow and ice control to railroads.

Queens state Senator Michael Gianaris said the agency is required to pay back the state because of a provision in the New York Public Authorities Law called the State Governmental Cost Recovery System.

The law states that a public authority “shall reimburse to New York state an allocable share of state governmental costs attributable to the provision of services to public benefit corporations, as determined herein.”

According to the law, the director of the the DOB and the state comptroller decide “the total amount of expenses incurred” by the state and a “direct portion of these funds” are allocated to fund the budget office. It is unclear why the MTA paid ORDA directly instead of giving that money to the state’s budget office.

Public authorities were billed $39.7 million in “cost recovery fees” and the $4.9 billion owed by the MTA this year is less than the $5.9 million owed in 2013. Agencies such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Battery Park, Housing Finance Agency and Environmental Facilities Corporation doled out millions to the state.

But Gianaris is arguing that the MTA cannot afford to divert much-needed funds to upstate ski resorts. He, along with Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, will introduce legislation that would exempt the MTA from the provision.

“With misplaced priorities like these, it’s no surprise the MTA is in such a serious crisis,” Gianaris said.”The state should fight to secure more funds for the MTA, not divert precious MTA resources to unrelated causes.”

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released an audit of ORDA in 2014, where he found that the public authority has repeatedly relied on credit and other state agencies to pay its bills.

From April 1, 2010, through March 31, 2013, “ORDA has used a line of credit (LOC) to cover its basic operating costs including payroll,” the audit read. “In some cases, other state agencies have paid ORDA’s bills, including $1.5 million of capital lease payments ORDA could not pay since December 2008.”

In June, Cuomo officially declared the MTA to be in a “state of emergency” and pledged to give the agency $1 billion for repairs. He also appointed Joe Lhota as the chairman for the MTA and ordered him to come up with a reorganization plan for the MTA within 30 days of his appointment.

In response to the massive delays and subway malfunction, Gianaris also introduced a bill called Better Trains, Better Cities, which would temporarily raise taxes on millionaires to provide emergency funds for the MTA.

More from Around New York