When he’s not down in Washington, Senator Chuck Schumer lives around on the corner from me in a nice building on Prospect Park West. His base of power stems from New York City; his roots are in Kings County. Where has he been, then, amidst all of this talk of transit stimulus plans and the financial woes of the MTA?
On a national level, things are building to a head. The Streetsblog Network has been tracking the ups and downs of the efforts to restore the transit funding to the stimulus bill that was allegedly removed by Lawrence Summers. While the House denied one transit-based amendment earlier this week, Jerrold Nadler’s efforts to add $3 billion to the stimulus plan will come to a vote soon. (To urge your member of Congress to act, check out Transportation for America.)
On a New York level, though, things are far more dire. Sure, the city could use the jobs and funding for major MTA capital projects that a massive transit stimulus package could deliver, but the focus right now is on the MTA operations budget and its $1.2 billion deficit. The MTA is in fact just one of 51 transit systems facing operations budget problems, and the federal government seems unwilling to bailout this vital artery of the nation’s economy. We are left then with internal options, and our national leaders have been notably silent on the issue.
My main gripe is with Sen. Schumer’s seeming unwillingness to thrust himself into the issue. As a Brooklynite, he could have a significant impact on the debate, but right now, the only thing Schumer is trying to get is to secure a tax break for commuters if the MTA raises its fares. Pete Donohue reports:
MTA commuters can counter pending fare hikes with increased tax savings if proposed legislation is enacted, officials said Tuesday.
Sen. Chuck Schumer said his mass transit tax break has been included in the Senate version of the economic recovery package.
The provision would raise the monthly cap on mass transit commuting costs not taxed by the federal government to $230 from $120.
That’s all well and good, but what about a statement supporting the payroll tax to counteract the MTA’s fare hikes and service cuts? What about unqualified support for the plan to toll the East River Bridges from one of Brooklyn’s native sons and prominent political representatives?
Later tonight, Brooklyn takes center stage as the MTA brings its hearings circuit our way. Council members are urging vocal protests, but where’s our solution? Will Bill de Blasio support tolls that impact just 3.1 percent of the borough’s commuters or will he offer up nothing to stop fare hikes and service cuts that will impact 60 percent of Brooklyn residents who rely on the MTA to get to and from work? Will a national leader lend his voice to this problem? Time is running out.