Congress Is Holding The Unemployed Hostage For Bailouts

This week’s Courier Herald column:

Georgians who find themselves unemployed due to the pandemic are no longer receiving additional unemployment insurance payments due to gridlock in Washington.  That’s the nice, sanitized way that the current situation is currently being reported.  It sounds much nicer and less sinister than reporting that those hardest hit by the pandemic are having their livelihoods held hostage by those that want to bail out bloated and failing bureaucracies.

Let’s take political motivations out of it and just look at the numbers, and we’ll add some Georgia numbers in for context.  For additional context and perspective, remember that Georgia is now the 8th largest state in the country, and thus our state budget numbers are hardly a rounding error when used as part of this national conversation.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is the entity that operates transit in the New York City region, including parts of New York State and Connecticut.  They’re the nation’s largest transit authority and claim to serve a population of 15 Million.  Georgia’s entire population, by comparison, is roughly 10 million.

MTA received $4 Billion in emergency funding in the CARES act.  The agency is now asking for an additional $12 Billion in federal funds to get them through this year and next.  A July report from the World Socialist Website indicated they would need $24 Billion to get them through 2024.

A billion here, a billion there, and sooner or later, we’re going to be talking about real money.  How real?  Let’s take a look at Georgia’s budget.

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s total budget for 2020 is $3.7 Billion dollars.  That consists of $2 Billion in motor fuel taxes and other funds the state collects locally, $1.6 billion in Federal Highway Trust Fund dollars (taxes we pay here, go to Washington, and then eventually come home), and about another $100 Million in “other” funds. 

To be fair, we’re comparing (big) apples to oranges here.  Transit system budgets differ from GDOT in that Georgia’s Department of Transportation spends money on roads and bridges.  Transit systems are funded separately.  For comparison, MARTA’s much smaller transit system operates on a $1.2 Billion annual total budget, split almost evenly between operations and capital expenses.

Also to be fair, MTA can’t pretend it was well run nor financially sound prior to the pandemic.  In 2017, NY Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the New York City Subway after a series of fires, derailments, and other incidents.  The New York Times cited financially unsound decisions including financial mismanagement, misspending, and infrastructure neglect.  Three years ago, the Band-Aid proposed to patch things up was at $9 Billion.

New York’s transit system has already received more in pandemic emergency funds than the State of Georgia spends on our entire road and bridge network every year.  Not content to let this crisis go to waste, they now want an additional $12 Billion in federal dollars more.

How much would $12 Billion buy in Georgia?  Georgia will spend about $10.8 Billion of state tax dollars on K-12 education this year.  New York claims it needs more than that just to stop the bleeding in their transit network for the next 18 months.

In that same 2017 New York Times article it was noted that more than 2,500 managers in New York subway administration made an average of $240,000.  A 2019 report said that the system relied on the “honor system” while paying out $1.4 Billion in overtime, with one employee claiming over $450,000 in overtime pay alone.

MTA’s bailout is just one example of the bloated agencies that those holding up unemployment insurance benefits are prioritizing over out of work Georgians.  More members of our Congressional delegation need to be asked why protecting quarter-million dollar salaries of NYC subway managers is more important to them than providing emergency payments to out of work Georgians.


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