The MTA Has More Debt Than Cuba, Iceland and at Least 28 Other Nations

February 12, 2015

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The MTA’s $15 billion 2015-2019 Capital Plan funding gap may sound like a staggering amount, but the current debt that the agency carries ($34.1 billion to be exact) is apparently bigger than that of Cuba, Syria and Jamaica’s total debt. In fact, according to a new Straphangers campaign, more than 30 nations have less debt than the MTA.


The report, which uses data compiled by the Economist, looked at countries with debt greater than $10 billion. What they found was that at least 30 countries were faring better than the MTA. Amongst the more comparatively “frugal” were Syria with its $30.1 billion in debt, Cuba with its $28.9 billion, Iceland with its $14.5 billion and Panama who is about $16.1 billion in the hole. It’s also worth noting that if the study had included countries carrying $10 billion or less debt, the MTA would have trumped 55 countries in over-spending.

Currently the MTA is trying to fund its proposed 2015-2019 Capital Program but is about $15 billion short of its $32 billion target. The plan mostly focuses on keeping the current system in good repair and providing cash for projects like the Second Avenue Subway as well as other basic updates to accommodate a rapidly growing ridership.

The plan is currently under review by Governor Cuomo, who is scheduled to finalize a plan by the year’s end. The governor has thus far refused to provide funding, but if he does agree, many, including Straphangers, worry that he’ll turn to debt funding. Gene Russianoff, attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, notes “While MTA bonds are sometimes backed by streams of real revenue, most times these borrowings have only come with a promise to raise fares if needed to pay bond holders…Heavy reliance on borrowing to fix transit is crushing riders like a packed subway car at rush hour.” Translation: We should expect less service and higher fares if the state goes this route.

Currently, the agency’s debt load accounts for $2.2 billion (17 percent) of their 2015 operating budget of $13.5 billion.

[Straphangers official press release]

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