With the ever-popular clock ticking its way toward March 25, MTA bigwigs boarded an Amtrak train yesterday morning to pay a lobbying call to Albany. While visiting our state’s illustrious capital, the MTA officials urged the state’s legislators to pick up the issue of the Ravitch Recommendations before the Board is forced to implement rampant service cuts and fare hikes.
“We represent the riders, and we’re here to make their case, not our case. Hopefully the legislators are listening very carefully because they are elected by those very same people,” MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger said.
While Sheldon Silver, the scourge of congestion pricing, feels his Assembly will take action before the end of March — can we please remember this on Election Day next time around? — he did manage to punt on the biggest issue. When the topic of the East River Bridge Tolls came up, Silver urged the city to act. NY1’s Bobby Cuza was on hand in Albany to report on the hearings:
One of the solutions recently proposed by the Ravitch Commission to help fund the system is proving to be a tough sell — the plan to put tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges, which are owned by the city.
The state Assembly appears unlikely to address the issue, just as it didn’t vote on the mayor’s congestion pricing plan last year. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said if the city wants East River bridge tolls, it can simply transfer those bridges to the MTA.
“We can’t just go in and impose tolls as a state, but the city can transfer to the MTA, lease to the MTA. There’s no legislation required for it to be done and it should just get done by the city,” said Silver.
Silver said the Assembly is ready to implement a new payroll tax, as recommended by the Ravitch Commission. The Senate leadership has so far not taken a position.
So it seems to me that the Assembly is willing to shoulder its share of the deal. I’m not going to don my party hat, though, until the payroll tax bill clears the two legislative bodies in Albany and David Paterson affixes his name to it. They really better hurry up on that.
Meanwhile, if this trip can be considered a guarded success, the MTA ought to act quickly to lobby the City Council. New York’s governing body will, much to the chagrin of MTA supporters, have to approve a sale of the bridges from the City to the MTA so that the transit authority could implement a tolling plan. Considering the overwhelming opposition to a plan that would impact far fewer people than a fare hike, that sale is far from guaranteed.
Later tonight at 6 p.m., the MTA will host the first of its public hearings on the fare hike. It’s time for our voices to be heard. As Silver said, the city must act to save the MTA.