Intergenerational Warfare

by Reihan Salam

I originally titled this post “Despicable Intergenerational Warfare,” but I decided that “despicable” was too strong a word. I’ll let you decide for yourself. I’m relying on Suzanne Sataline’s able reporting in the Wall Street Journal. In New York, the MTA is phasing out free and discounted fares for students. The New York city public schools educate roughly 1.1 million students, and a large majority rely on public transportation. One might object that free and discounted fares are not properly targeted. Perhaps students from affluent families shouldn’t receive this benefit. But rest assured, only a relatively thin slice of the 1.1 million students in New York are from households for whom the cost of public transportation during the school year isn’t a heavy burden. 

So why exactly is the MTA taking this extreme step? The phase-out will save the MTA $170 million. And the shortfall was caused by legislators in Albany and an intransigent labor union.

The MTA said it must shrink service because New York lawmakers, facing a budget deficit, slashed annual subsidies to the MTA by $143 million. In addition, a recent court ruling ordered the authority to pay $541 million in wage increases to unionized workers over three years, according to an MTA spokesman.

I can understand why New York lawmakers would want to trim the budget. But what about the large tax giveaways to keep financial services firms in Lower Manhattan, subsidies designed to bribe Albany-based nanotech firms into creating a handful of jobs, the bloated SUNY system, the exorbitant cost of incarcerating New Yorkers, and … the list goes on. Let me stress: I have no principled objection to cutting subsidies to the MTA. In fact, it might be a good idea. Let’s be sure, however, that we slash corporate giveaways first.

And then, of course, there is $541 million in wage increases. I don’t begrudge MTA workers for wanting more money. I will gently suggest, however, that we index wage increases for MTA employees to growth in the median income for families with children living in the five boroughs — you know, the single fathers and mothers and striving immigrants and artists and small business owners who now have to pick up the tab for getting their kids to and from school.

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.