Just a day after Albany promised fast action on the MTA’s financial situation, proposals are making their ways through the Senate and Assembly. While Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is primed to endorse a modified East River Bridge toll plan in the Assembly, Senate leaders from the New York City area have yet to embrace the plan, leaving the MTA’s financial future in doubt.
Silver’s proposal, while a start, would set initial toll levels at $2 a ride, on par with subway fare but well below the figure set forward by Richard Ravitch. In other words, Silver’s plan would probably be the worst of all worlds. The MTA would still need to raise fares and cut services to cover its deficit, and politicians would be up in arms over tolling. If that’s all he thinks he can deliver, so be it. It is, as some opposing Assemblymen noted, far easier to raise the tolls later on than it is to get them implemented in the first place.
According to The Times, Silver is ready to combat outer borough pols who misguidedly do not believe the East River bridges should be tolled. He’ll also have to face down Senate leaders who won’t embrace the Ravitch Commission recommendations as well. Jeremy W. Peters reports:
But by proposing new tolls — albeit more modest ones than what a state commission proposed in December — Mr. Silver has put himself at odds with many legislators in Albany, particularly those from boroughs outside Manhattan and the suburbs who represent people who drive into the city regularly…
“I put forth a plan that I thought was fair and reasonable,” Mr. Silver said as he was leaving a meeting with the Assembly Democratic conference in the Capitol on Wednesday evening. “Obviously there are some who don’t like the toll. And I put that in the juxtaposition of, ‘Look, this is the only game in town.’ ”
Some Assembly Democrats were already resisting the speaker’s plan on Wednesday. “Tolling the bridges is just not acceptable to me,” said Rory I. Lancman, who represents Queens. “Once you cross the Rubicon on tolling bridges the future conversation is merely, ‘How much is the periodic increase going to be?’”
“No one wants to have to do any of this,” Assemblyman Micah Kellner, who proposed his own plan a few months ago, said. “But we’re going to have to pay for the M.T.A. one way or the other.”
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Outer Borough representatives are spinning the same old tired rhetoric as they oppose all tolling plans at the expense of the MTA. If that is in there, there’s no way I’m going to vote for it and you can take that to the bank,” Ruben Diaz, Sr., a State Senator from the Bronx, said.
Do these politicians not realize that far more of their constituents will suffer if the MTA enacts its Doomsday budget than if tolls arrive on East River crossings? As that chart at right shows, only about five percent of all Manhattna-bound commuters from Brooklyn cross the bridges each day while over 32 percent rely on the subway. The numbers are substantially similar for the Bronx and Queens. Yet politicians are willing to sacrifice the subways for their precious free bridges that should be tolled anyway.
Furthermore, nearly as many Manhattan-based commuters used the bridges too. While these politicians are claiming that this plan penalizes the Outer Boroughs, that cry is far from the truth.
In the end, Kellner’s point of view will have to win the day. One way or another, the Assembly and the Senate are going to have to pay for the MTA. How they do so remains to be seen.