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Budget Problems, Union Challenges Await New MTA Chairman

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Joseph Lhota, the Madison Square Garden executive who was picked by Governor Andrew Cuomo Thursday to be the next MTA chairman, faces many challenges when he steps into office, including a $10 billion budget gap and a tense relationship with the Transport Workers Union. NY1’s Tina Redwine filed the following report.

Joseph Lhota emerged after a two-hour meeting with outgoing Metropolitan Transportation Authority chair Jay Walder Thursday and said he's looking forward to the job.

“The MTA represents one of the most important infrastructure organizations in the world and my job here is to help continue to make sure it runs on a great basis,” said Lhota, the incoming MTA chairman.

That won't be easy. In spite of previous jumps in fares and widespread service cuts, the agency faces a $10 billion gap in its capital budget even while straphangers face two more rounds of fare hikes in coming years.

Lhota said his past experience as city budget director will come in handy.

“I've worked with gaps in the past, but I'm a lifelong New Yorker and I'm looking forward to the opportunity and the challenge,” said Lhota.

Former MTA chair Richard Ravitch said Lhota is a good choice because his political skills are more important than having transit experience.

“There are very able people at the MTA who have responsibilities of the discreet parts of the operating transit system. That's not the same thing as being chairman of the board and chief executive officer of something as vast as the MTA,” said Ravitch.

One of Lhota's biggest challenges will be negotiating with the 38,000-member Transport Workers Union. The union had a bitter relationship with outgoing chairman Walder.

Lhota was deputy mayor in 1999 when Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the MTA got a court order preventing the union from even saying the word "strike" during tough contract talks.

“If Lhota wants to continue the policies of where Giuliani left off in 1999, then he's likely to have a problem with organized labor. If Lhota is looking to have a working relationship knowing that we are going to disagree on many issues, then that would be our choice, our preference,” said John Samuelson of TWU Local 100.

“John Samuelslon and I spoke this afternoon. We're gonna meet at some point soon. We obviously, we're probably gonna disagree on some things, maybe we'll agree on other things, but you know we're gonna have an open line of communication,” said Lhota.

With that, Lhota headed home on the subway.

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