NFTA in line for $100M to­ward Metro Rail work

State funds won’t be part of fi­nal push for bud­get, but OK ex­pected this ses­sion

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - By Tom Pre­cious

AL­BANY – The Ni­a­gara Fron­tier Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity is in line for a $100 mil­lion state aid boost over the next five years to use for ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments on its de­te­ri­o­rat­ing Metro Rail sys­tem.

The agree­ment came Satur­day evening be­tween Gov. An­drew M. Cuomo and the State Leg­is­la­ture, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion ob­tained by The Buf­falo News.

It is not ex­pected to be ap­proved in the 2019 state bud­get law­mak­ers are rush­ing to try to wrap up on Sun­day, but of­fi­cials said they ex­pect a fi­nal statewide cap­i­tal plan – in­clud­ing the NFTA fund­ing – to be ap­proved in this leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

The light rail fund­ing was among an ar­ray of deals get­ting fi­nal ap­proval Satur­day at the Capi­tol as law­mak­ers rushed to get a 2019 state bud­get in place, in­clud­ing an end to the cash bail sys­tem for most in­di­vid­u­als ar­rested in New York.

A push to en­act tax­payer-fi­nanced elec­tions will end with a study com­mis­sion that will is­sue a bind­ing re­port by Dec. 1 on how such a sys­tem might work.

Be­sides the $100 mil­lion in state money solely ded­i­cated for the cap­i­tal needs of the NFTA’s Metro Rail, the deal also in­cludes $6 mil­lion for an en­gi­neer­ing study to ex­pand the 6.4-mile rail line to the Univer­sity at Buf­falo’s North Cam­pus.

“This crit­i­cal fund­ing will up­grade this sys­tem into a 21stcen­tury rail­way that New York­ers de­serve, help­ing to grow the lo­cal econ­omy and help­ing to en­sure this re­mains a re­gion on the move,” Cuomo said in a state­ment Satur­day night.

The deal was pushed heav­ily be­hind the scenes by Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Buf­falo Demo­crat, who was able to em­ploy in­flu­ence in bud­get talks this year af­ter Democrats took con­trol of the Se­nate in Jan­uary and he was ap­pointed as the Se­nate’s trans­porta­tion com­mit­tee chair­man.

“We made it a pri­or­ity, es­pe­cially with the down­state in­vest­ments of his­toric pro­por­tions, that we are mak­ing his­toric in­vest­ments in Buf­falo and West­ern New York as well. This is some­thing that I com­mit­ted to not com­ing home with­out,” Kennedy said of the $100 mil­lion cap­i­tal deal.

Kennedy said the light rail sys­tem has “suf­fered from years of dis­in­vest­ment” that has re­duced on-time per­for

Like the elec­torate, Par­lia­ment turned out to op­pose every­thing. The re­sult is chaos and drift.

There is more than in­de­ci­sion or grid­lock at play here. Bri­tain’s break­down, though par­tic­u­larly acute, rep­re­sents a much wider phe­nom­e­non.

Across West­ern democ­ra­cies, pol­i­tics are in­creas­ingly de­fined by op­po­si­tion – op­po­si­tion to the sta­tus quo, to the es­tab­lish­ment and to one’s par­ti­san ri­vals.

Peo­ple have al­ways or­ga­nized more eas­ily around what they’re against than what they’re for, but this is dif­fer­ent. Pol­i­tics have grown vis­cer­ally tribal and vot­ers in­stinc­tively de­struc­tive.

This trend, driven by so­cial change, eco­nomic up­heaval and tech­no­log­i­cal dis­rup­tion, is wors­en­ing some of democ­racy’s gravest prob­lems.

It is feed­ing par­ti­san­ship’s ran­cor and in­tran­si­gence, as vot­ers or­ga­nize around op­pos­ing the other side. It is deep­en­ing in­sta­bil­ity, with elec­tions that frac­ture par­ties and eject who­ever holds power. And it is driv­ing pop­ulist re­volts, as ci­ti­zens clamor to tear down es­tab­lish­ments and sta­tus quos.

Across Europe, main­stream par­ties have splin­tered, weak­en­ing cen­trist lead­ers and em­pow­er­ing hard­line pop­ulists. In the United States, all-out par­ti­san war­fare has made co­op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance un­think­able.

The trend is cap­tured best by France’s “Yel­low Vest” pro­test­ers, who can agree only on their anger at their sta­tus quo and dis­trust of in­sti­tu­tions. Their tear-it-all-down ethos has left them, de­spite their im­pres­sive power to mo­bi­lize, po­lit­i­cally in­choate.

“This is hap­pen­ing ev­ery­where,” said Steven Le­vit­sky, a Har­vard Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist, re­fer­ring to the col­lapse of what schol­ars call Schum­pete­rian democ­racy, named for Aus­trian the­o­rist Joseph Schum­peter. Long the ba­sis of mod­ern democ­racy, in which es­tab­lish­ments man­aged pop­u­lar will and sought a com­mon good, it is giv­ing way to a new sys­tem that is both pri­mal and dis­tinctly 21st cen­tury.

“For bet­ter and worse, the mod­er­a­tion, pol­icy sta­bil­ity and in­for­mal checks im­posed by the es­tab­lish­ments’ mo­nop­oly over ac­cess to elected of­fice are dis­ap­pear­ing,” Le­vit­sky said. With so­cial dis­trust and po­lit­i­cal chaos ris­ing, he added, “This is go­ing to be a ma­jor chal­lenge go­ing for­ward.”

Neg­a­tive par­ti­san­ship

In 2015, po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Web­ster iden­ti­fied a mys­tery: Amer­i­cans ex­pressed record lev­els of party loy­alty and party-line vot­ing, but were less likely than ever to iden­tify as Repub­li­can or Demo­crat. How could peo­ple be si­mul­ta­ne­ously at their most par­ti­san and least sup­port­ive of their own party?

The an­swer, they found, was a ris­ing force called neg­a­tive par­ti­san­ship. Amer­i­cans in­creas­ingly voted based on their fear and dis­trust of the other side, not sup­port for their own.

This had a more de­struc­tive ef­fect than merely widen­ing par­ti­san di­vides. It weak­ened par­ties, now less able to draw on a united base or en­thu­si­asm for an af­fir­ma­tive agenda. And it em­pow­ered who­ever would prom­ise to tear down the other side.

“This has gen­er­ated an elec­torate that is more bi­ased against and an­gry at op­po­nents, and more will­ing to act on that bias and anger,” po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Lil­liana Ma­son wrote in a book­length study of the change, which she cred­ited to the par­ties grow­ing so­cially and de­mo­graph­i­cally ho­mo­ge­neous.

Par­ties or­ga­nized around op­po­si­tion have proved to be less able to govern. Re­pub­li­cans ran for three con­sec­u­tive elec­tions on op­po­si­tion to Oba­macare. But af­ter tak­ing the White House and both houses of Congress, the party failed to unite around any plan to re­place it.

In Bri­tain, Brexit has been an­i­mated by op­po­si­tion to the EU, rather than any clear al­ter­na­tive to mem­ber­ship.

Re­volt against every­thing

Vot­ers are re­ject­ing more than their op­po­nents – eco­nomic, so­cial and de­mo­graphic change have sparked up­ris­ings against any per­ceived fix­ture of the sta­tus quo.

The 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, along with sky­rock­et­ing in­come in­equal­ity, have stalled wages and so­cial mo­bil­ity across the West.

When peo­ple hold “low trust in govern­ment and low or static ex­pec­ta­tions for their fu­ture lives,” ac­cord­ing to re­search by the Gallup Or­ga­ni­za­tion, sup­port for pop­ulist, anti-es­tab­lish­ment pol­i­tics surges.

Re­search by Roberto Ste­fan Foa and Yascha Mounk found that as in­equal­ity rises, ci­ti­zens be­come less likely to be­lieve that their govern­ment is truly demo­cratic – un­der­min­ing le­git­i­macy of the sys­tem it­self.

This anger, stud­ies sug­gest, can be as much about dol­lars and cents as about fear of los­ing sta­tus rel­a­tive to one’s neigh­bors and los­ing con­trol of one’s fu­ture – a back­lash lay­ered with whites’ grow­ing fears of de­mo­graphic change.

Pop­ulist par­ties, ris­ing steadily since the civil rights move­ments of the 1960s, have surged amid re­cent im­mi­gra­tion booms by cham­pi­oning na­tivist fears of lost na­tional iden­tity, and rail­ing against es­tab­lish­ments as hav­ing sold the peo­ple out.

Brexit chan­neled these sen­ti­ments, fram­ing the EU as the ul­ti­mate es­tab­lish­ment, and im­mi­gra­tion as a per­ilous threat. So did Eu­ro­pean and Amer­i­can pop­ulists, run­ning on har­den­ing bor­ders and re­tak­ing con­trol from cor­rupt elites.

Col­lapse of the old way

“From the birth of lib­eral democ­racy through the late 20th cen­tury,” said Le­vit­sky, po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ments “more or less” con­trolled ac­cess to elected of­fice.

Change, much of it tech­no­log­i­cal, has ended that era. Out­sider can­di­dates can raise money on­line, run­ning with­out the con­sent of party chiefs or groups like or­ga­nized la­bor. They can reach vot­ers through so­cial me­dia, cir­cum­vent­ing gate­keep­ers and main­stream me­dia.

The rise of pri­maries in the United States since the 1970s, and out­sider par­ties in Europe, fur­ther weak­ened main­stream par­ties’ con­trol over bal­lots. Vot­ers, not es­tab­lish­ments, now con­trol ac­cess to of­fice.

“This, of course, is de­moc­ra­tiz­ing. But it is also desta­bi­liz­ing,” Le­vit­sky said. Self-in­ter­ested es­tab­lish­ments often blocked pop­u­lar ideas and mi­nor­ity groups. But they also formed what the French call a cor­don san­i­taire – quar­an­tine – against na­tion­al­ist or far-right pol­i­tics.

This quar­an­tine has be­gun to crack, with right-wing pop­ulists claim­ing to rep­re­sent the true will of the peo­ple against main­stream par­ties that want to sup­press that will. Their bat­tle for con­trol has deep­ened vot­ers’ sense that democ­racy it­self is at stake.

In Bri­tain, sup­port­ers of Brexit often see de­lays and set­backs as proof that elites never re­ally in­tended to al­low pop­u­lar will to pre­vail. Main­stream lead­ers, in­clud­ing May, have warned that re­vok­ing Brexit would shat­ter Bri­tons’ al­ready-ten­u­ous faith in their democ­racy.

Talk of re­main­ing has be­come a po­lit­i­cal third rail even as polls sug­gest it now has ma­jor­ity sup­port. Law­mak­ers are scram­bling for any Brexit plan with a pub­lic man­date when none ap­pears to ex­ist.

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