Home MTA EconomicsRavitch Commission What Ravitch hath wrought

What Ravitch hath wrought

by Benjamin Kabak

Getting his committee’s ambitious plan to save the MTA out in front of the public was easy for Richard Ravitch. A public desperate to avoid the MTA’s doomsday scenario hadn’t been this excited for a government report in ages. But now that we have all the details and a few supporters, the hard part — convincing both the properly suspicious and misguided skeptics — begins.

Reaction to the plan was both swift and all over the place with groups coming out, for, against and in mixed support of the plan. As expected, the MTA seemed accepting of it. “The MTA is pleased that the commission appointed by Governor Paterson and led by Richard Ravitch has identified a comprehensive plan for putting the MTA back on sound financial footing. We thank Governor Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg and all of the commission members for their support of increased funding for the critical operating and capital needs of the transit system that powers the state’s economy,” the agency said in a statement e-mailed out to reporters this afternoon.

But beyond the MTA’s unconditional support, battle lines were swiftly drawn. For the most part, public advocacy organizations such as the Straphangers Campaign and the New York League of Conservation Voters issued statements in favor of the Ravitch recommendations while elected officials issued the tired, knee-jerk reaction to tolling the East River bridges and higher taxes.

At some point, these officials will understand that driving isn’t free in any social aspect and that funding mass transit, a more important part of the tri-state area than unnecessarily cheap tolls, is more vital to the area’s health. Perhaps, they’ll also understand that tolling the currently-free East River bridges would result in no increases in the cost of the current East River tolls. This is a subtle but important point the plan’s proponents will have to propagate.

CityRoom posted a full array of statements yesterday afternoon. In today’s New York Times, William Neuman and Jeremy Peters offer up a more nuanced look at the reactions.

State legislators, mainly from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, said the plan by a state commission headed by Richard Ravitch, a former authority chairman, would unfairly burden drivers from their districts.

But many of those same legislators, along with some business leaders, were more supportive of another part of the plan: a proposed tax of one-third of 1 percent on payrolls in the 12-county region served by the authority, which includes New York City, Long Island and five counties north of the city…

“Any solution that disproportionately burdens middle- and working-class people who live in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn is not a fair way to deal with this, and that’s what tolling the bridges would do,” said Assemblyman Michael N. Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens.

Gianaris was one of many assembly representatives and City Council members to pursue this line of thinking. One day, he and others will understand that New York’s lower class residents are the ones who rely on the subway most of all. They don’t owe cars; they can’t afford gas. In fact, they stand to benefit the most from a healthy and vibrant mass transit system.

But beyond that, it seems as though the politicians who matter here are going to ask for more oversight of the MTA and try to lobby for lower or no East River tolls and higher payroll taxes. The pols really don’t like the East River tolls. The issue of the driver licensing and car registration fees will rear it’s ugly head too. (Look for more on that this afternoon.)

Meanwhile, Ted Kheel promises another plan focusing around mass transit, and Roger Tussaint warns about ensuring that any recommendations are a-OK with his Transit Workers Union Local 100. Some things never change.

For now, things are shaking down as expected. The tough work begins right away though. The MTA has to present a balanced budget before December is out, and the legislature needs to act quickly. Can New York finally look forward to a progressive solution to its transit woes? We’ll find out soon.

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8 comments

Peter December 5, 2008 - 8:50 am

I continue to find it extremely odd that some Queens, Brooklyn, SI & Bronx pols insist that making a comparatively small number of their constituents pay to occasionally cross a waterway in an automobile is unfair, while the vast number of their voters pay 40 times a month to cross, both ways, on the Subway.

Ive said it before and will say it again, there should a l w a y s be one toll-free lane at every intracity crossing, so that if you think that it is unfair to pay a toll, you are free (as it were) to queue up at rush hour and wait a while to save a few bucks.

I think the recently-discussed “Free Manhattan Crosstown Bus” idea should be made part of the Ravitch Plan too, if only as a spoonful of sugar.

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rhywun December 5, 2008 - 9:11 am

From the Times:

“By itself, the payroll tax, which is projected to generate $1.5 billion a year, would plug the authority’s budget gap next year and provide hundreds of millions of dollars more to help the state and city close their own budget shortfalls.”

What happened to the “lockbox”? Does anyone really think this tax won’t be tossed into the general treasury? Can someone explain to me why I should pay (more) tax to alleviate problems upstate, who won’t be paying this tax?!

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Alon Levy December 5, 2008 - 2:20 pm

Of course it will be tossed into the general treasury, after the downstate region gets first dibs.

Call it the cost of having all the statewide political leaders come from the New York City area.

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rhywun December 5, 2008 - 11:23 pm

Oh, there’s something I want to call it, but it’s not that. Nor is it printable here.

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joe December 5, 2008 - 10:51 am

si residents pay like 4.80 to cross from brooklyn to SI using the ezpass discount (since there is only a 1 way toll).
why not let all NYC residents pay ~2.40 to cross all crossings to or from manhattan. that would only be slightly more than the subway cost.

seems easiest and fairest to me

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Marc Shepherd December 5, 2008 - 12:34 pm

Actually, the Ravitch report proposes tolling the Harlem River bridges at the same price as a subway fare. That seems very fair to me: you pay the same, regardless of which travel mode you choose.

The large city-owned East River bridges are a different story, since they’re on essentially the same size and scale as the MTA-owned crossings. There’s no rational basis for the Brooklyn Bridge and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to cost anything different.

The original reason for tolling the Battery Tunnel (and all of the MTA crossings) was to pay off the bonds that funded their construction. But those bonds have long since been retired. The only reason they still have tolls is: 1) to pay for maintenance; and 2) to subsidize mass transit. And it is the identical reason for putting tolls on the bridges that currently don’t have them.

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Cap'n Transit December 5, 2008 - 9:52 pm

Gianaris has had ample time to figure out that the people he’s defending aren’t working class. If he and these other jerks really haven’t figured it out by now, they never will.

Of course, they could be lying. They are politicians, after all.

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The Declining New York City Power Center « Politics as Puppetry December 8, 2008 - 1:01 pm

[…] problem with eliminating term limits – it creates an inability to pick hard political battles like really saving the MTA when constantly in the running for a third or fourth term.  Regardless of the high re-election […]

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