RELEASE: Gottheimer Calls for Congressional Oversight Hearing and Investigation into MTA’s Mismanaged Spending

Oct 12, 2022
Press

HACKENSACK, NJ

MTA Running a Deficit After Blowing Billions of Federal Tax Dollars — Reports of Mismanagement, Corruption, Fraud 

MTA to Whack Hard-Working Drivers with $23/Day Congestion Tax

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Above: Gottheimer in Hackensack in front of the Manhattan skyline today.

HACKENSACK, NJ — Today, October 13, 2022, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) formally called for a Congressional oversight hearing and an investigation into New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) from both the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. Gottheimer believes the American taxpayers deserve answers, under oath, from the MTA regarding how $15 billion of COVID-19 relief taxpayer dollars were spent and why the MTA is hitting hard-working commuters with a new $23-a-day Congestion Tax instead of combating its own mismanagement.

In a letter to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis today, both Gottheimer and Republican Congressman Nicole Malliotakis (NY-11) urged the Committee to require testimony from Janno Lieber, CEO and Chair of the MTA and investigate the agency. Find the letter here.

This call for a congressional hearing and investigation comes as New York and the MTA continue to move forward with their absurd Congestion Tax Plan to whack drivers with a $23-a-day tax to drive into New York City and south of 60th street. The Congestion Tax will cost a hard-working commuter $5,000-a-year — all of it going to the MTA.

The Congestion Tax is a cash grab for the mismanaged MTA to make up for the $2.5 billion budget deficit they are running caused by woeful mismanagement, corruption, fraud, and violations. The MTA received a record $15 billion in federal COVID-19 relief, on top of more than $2 billion received annually from the federal government. A new report from the New York State Comptroller predicts the MTA could have a $4.6 billion dollar operating deficit by 2026.

The MTA’s Record of Mismanagement, Corruption, Violations, and Fraud:

“The last thing that a terribly mismanaged government authority needs — one that’s faced indictments for fraud and is riddled with investigations — is more of our money. It’s time we get some answers from the MTA that keeps pouring the dollars we’ve sent them into a black hole. It’s long past time for Mr. Lieber to come before Congress to answer, under oath, the many questions that need answers,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “The leaders in New York — from the legislature to the Mayor to the Governor — need to take a hard look at the MTA’s operation because it’s hurting hard-working families who need a break right now. They don’t need more taxes, fees, and tolls just to get to work to feed their families.”

“I think it’s important to understand about the New Jersey limousine, taxi cab, rideshare industry and how this would affect lower to middle income as well as folks of a minority background. Ninety percent of our drivers in the Limousine Association of New Jersey are either lower middle income or of a minority ethnic background. If this tax were to go into effect, those drivers’ livelihoods would be heavily affected by this, and their services would be much less attractive,” said Michael DeLamater, representing the Limousine Association of New Jersey. “While Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare companies are not always on the same page — particularly when they surged into NYC — on this issue everyone is on the same page.”

The Congestion Tax will drain our families’ pocketbooks and hurt small businesses, and it does nothing to actually help the environment or ease congestion. For those in North Jersey near bridges and tunnels, in the outer boroughs, and north of 60th in Manhattan, the Congestion Tax — by the MTA’s own admission — will lead to more traffic, trucks, and pollution and will particularly hurt lower-income families and children. 74 percent of those who testified at the MTA’s public hearings opposed the Congestion Tax.

Gottheimer was joined today in Hackensack by Michael DeLamater representing the Limousine Association of New Jersey, Bergen County Commissioner Mary Amoroso, Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton, and Executive Director Fair Lawn Chamber of Commerce Toni DeLisi.

Gottheimer and Malliotakis’s letter to House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio and House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Chair James Clyburn can be found here.

Video of the announcement can be found here.

Below: Gottheimer in Hackensack in front of the Manhattan skyline today

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Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

It’s always great to be back in Hackensack. I wish I were here for more positive reasons, but, unfortunately, New York and the MTA are driving forward with their absurd Congestion Tax idea — with no indication that they plan to hit the brakes. 

By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard about the MTA’s plan to whack drivers with a new $23-a-day tax when you drive into New York City and go south of 60th street. That’s more than $5,000-a-year if you’re a hard-working Jersey commuter — all of it going to the MTA. Now, their lawmakers have introduced bills to charge drivers from New Jersey a $50 fee for coming from what they’re calling a “non-cooperative” state. 

This new “non-cooperative” fine would be more than $12,000 a year for our hard-working commuters — for a total of $4,000 a year for the $16 dollar-a-day toll over the bridges and through the tunnels, $5,000 a year for the Congestion Tax, and now this $50-a-day fee for being a “non-cooperative” state. That’s a total of $21,000 a year to commute to New York City – plus parking and gas. 

A taxi driver, a nurse, a restaurant worker, hardworking families will all get fleeced. 

What’s insane is that, according to the MTA’s own study they submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation, their plan will cause traffic delays near the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and approaches westbound to the GW Bridge on I-95. It will send trucks into northern New Jersey and into the outer boroughs. Children in Bergen County near the I-95 George Washington Bridge and in the Bronx will face an increase of air pollutants and toxins. 

And the MTA admitted their plan would disproportionately impact low-income drivers.

Let me summarize this, the MTA’s brilliant plan to supposedly address congestion won’t actually do that — by their own admission, it will lead to more traffic, cause more pollution, and hurt low-income families — not to mention what it will do to New York City’s attempted comeback following the pandemic. This new Congestion Tax will hurt the city’s small businesses, which is why they’re so strongly opposed, and it will dwarf their attempt to draw workers back. 

So, why are they doing it? For one simple reason, because the MTA’s needs the money. After blowing $15 billion the federal government gave to the MTA to help them through the pandemic, and the $2 billion they get annually from Washington, they are now running a $2.5 billion budget deficit. 

And, this doesn’t include what they got from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill which will be 25 billion dollars to New York state. I was very proud to help craft that bill and get it passed.

MTA’s years of mismanagement and corruption have caught up with them, and now they need the cash — and they see Jersey families and commuters as their giant ATM machine. There was no cooperation here, like our two states do every day with the Port Authority. There was no proper study of Jersey or even Staten Island’s mass transit options, of which we just don’t have enough. No, the MTA just decided to plow forward no matter the roadkill they left behind in their wake. 

Now that we know their motives, that this is just a massive cash grab, the question, as federal taxpayers, we should all have is – where did all of this money go? And how are they going to solve the critical issues the MTA’s raised in their own report. 

Today, along with Republican Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis, I’m formally calling for both the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis to require testimony from Janno Lieber, CEO and Chair of the MTA, and demand answers, under oath, for how $15 billion of COVID relief taxpayer dollars were squandered and why the MTA is hitting hard-working commuters with a new tax instead of getting its house in order.  I will make my letter to the Chairman DeFazio and Chairman Clyburn of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, respectively. 

As a Member of Congress, we have a responsibility to watch the purse strings of American taxpayer dollars. And this is about watching those dollars and ensuring they are used appropriately. We need to get to the bottom of what New York’s MTA did with those dollars.

To reiterate: Despite the recent surge of federal COVID dollars, to the tune of $15 billion, their woeful mismanagement and lax enforcement of fare collection has led to a $2.5 billion budget deficit. The MTA also receives more than $2 billion annually from the federal government.

And what did they do with those billions of taxpayer dollars — the $15 billion in COVID relief and the $2 billion each year? They seem to have blown it, as if they were on an all-night bender.

It’s unbelievable how badly run the MTA is. In just the first three months of this year, they lost $119 million to fare evasion, heading toward a $500 million total loss for this year. These are self-inflicted losses that have nothing to do with the pandemic.

To make matters worse, recent reporting indicates that the mismanaged MTA may be underestimating its losses by billions of dollars.

A new report from the New York State Comptroller predicts the MTA could have a $4.6 billion dollar operating deficit by 2026. That’s billion with a B. 

Not to mention, not too long ago, a former MTA manager pleaded guilty to obstructing an investigation into bid rigging and fraud. This is just one of countless investigations and issues at the MTA. 

Another MTA manager was sentenced to forty-six months in prison for soliciting and accepting bribes from contractors. 

And since then, their Office of the Inspector General has concluded investigations that found signal maintainers falsifying records, theft from passengers and the agency, procurement ethics violations, deficient maintenance, skipped inspections, and nepotistic hiring. 

Some of these violations are outright shocking, including employees crashing and abandoning a boat, sleeping on the job, procuring a charger for a personal Tesla vehicle, and vendors operating as in-house consultants. 

Just this year, the MTA’s highest paid employee was sentenced for what the judge described as an “orgy of overtime fraud” as part of a ring that stole more than a million dollars from taxpayers.

Instead of doing anything at all about the corruption and mismanagement at the agency, or managing their money properly, the MTA and their leadership are now just trying to use our hardworking families as the MTA’s piggy bank.

The MTA is a bureaucratic, mismanaged swamp. The last thing that a terribly mismanaged government authority needs — one that’s faced indictments for fraud and is riddled with investigations — is more of our money. 

It’s time we get some answers from the MTA that keeps pouring the dollars we’ve sent them into a black hole.

It’s long past time for Mr. Lieber to come before Congress to answer, under oath, the many questions that need answers.

Let’s be clear: it’s not just folks in New Jersey who hate the Congestion Tax — it’s also those in New York. They’ll have to pay all of those new fees, too, the traffic north of 60th will be unbearable, the outer boroughs a mess.  More traffic, trucks, and pollution will particularly hurt lower-income families and children. The MTA recently concluded their public hearings which attracted hard-working residents from New Jersey, Manhattan, and the outer boroughs. And their strong opposition to the MTA’s proposed tax couldn’t have been clearer. According to a detailed analysis of the hearings, 74% of those who testified opposed the MTA’s Congestion Tax on commuters.

Of the nearly three-quarters of the public who opposed the Congestion Tax, they called it just another tax, a cash grab for the mismanaged MTA, and believe it hurts marginalized communities, including hard-working middle class and lower-income families. I couldn’t agree more. 

Frankly, when you look at the big picture here — with all the pushback and negative effects — it just doesn’t make sense to impose the Congestion Tax. 

The leaders in New York — from the legislature to the Mayor to the Governor — need to take a hard look at the MTA’s operation because it’s hurting hard-working families who need a break right now. They don’t need more taxes, fees, and tolls just to get to work to feed their families.  

New York continues to create divisions with New Jersey, and it all starts with their Congestion Tax.

We should be working together to focus on things like building the Gateway Train Tunnel instead of whacking New Jersey with $23 daily taxes and $50 fines.

When we work together, New Jersey and New York are a tough combination to beat. Look at how well we’ve cooperated for more than a hundred years at the Port Authority.  

But, from the way it looks, New York is going to force us to continue to fight as they stick it to Jersey and their own outer boroughs.

I hope New York Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul are listening because our residents, from Gov. Phil Murphy to the city’s small business owners to taxi and Uber drivers and so many others all want the MTA to reverse course on their Congestion Tax plan.

Thank you again and may God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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