Hugh Carey, the former New York governor who died Aug. 6 at age 92, served at a time—the 1970s and 1980s—when New York City was facing a financial crisis. He realized that the poor condition of the city’s public transportation system was part of the problem, and that rescuing transit would be part of the solution.
“Who would believe,” Carey said in 1982, “that a state that couldn’t get to market, a city that couldn’t get to market, where we couldn’t even get $750 million to keep the city afloat and alive in 1975, in one night’s work, in one program alone, could launch the program for the capital improvement of the subways of $8 billion in 1981. You don’t get there by accident.”
As reported on the Streetsblog New York City web site, Carey worked with Richard Ravitch, whom he appointed to head the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), to keep MTA New York City Transit’s subways operating. In the words of blogger Noah Kazis: “The city’s safe, clean, and widely-used transit system was the result of a purposeful, hard-fought effort by Carey and his administration to reinvest in the subways, buses, and trains after decades of neglect.”
Carey proposed a state bond issue in 1979 that provided nearly $800 million for transit, backed by sales tax revenues. Another of his plans, introduced in March of 1981, included a minimum annual appropriation from the state and exemptions from various state regulations for the transit authority.
An advisory panel proposed increasing the sales tax in the MTA service area and using a statewide tax on oil companies to further fund transit. The state legislature passed a variant on his panel’s plan—which Carey vetoed, stating that the legislature “failed to resolve the critical financial problems of mass transit.”
In 1982, the MTA again faced a shortfall related to cuts in federal transit funding. Carey supported a measure for a new tax on corporate profits downstate, which passed by the end of the year.
“Over a two-year period,” Kazis wrote, “Carey and the legislature had put together a set of dedicated funding streams that by 2006 were providing nearly $1.7 billion a year for downstate transit.”