Last year, on April 1, I ran a post with the headline “MTA announces plan to shutter subways at night.” At the time, any plan to close or reduce subway capacity seemed so far from the minds of New Yorkers that we could sit back and laugh about our 24-hour transit system.
Today, I wish I were writing this story as an April Fools joke, but I am not. In a stunning development, State Senate negotiations over an MTA rescue package are on life support with only the barest of pulses. Three Senators officially killed the tolling proposal advocated by Richard Ravitch and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Tuesday morning, and a few hours later, talks over other possible solutions ended when four Senators representing Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties vowed to kill the payroll tax provisions as well. Baring any further developments, the MTA will have to implement its Doomsday budget.
William Neuman and Nicolas Confessiore reported this bad news in The Times, and their sources are painting a dire picture. “It’s not dead but it’s definitely not in good shape. I think we’re nowhere,” one anonymous Senate insider said to the reporters, contracting a NY1 report proclaiming the plan dead.
This news comes on the heels of what was shaping up to be productive day, at least by Albany’s standards. While the morning starting out with the certain death of the bridge toll plan, Democratic leaders were confident they could find other ways to solve the budget gap. “I think what’s most important,” Silver said a press event on Tuesday, “is we’re dealing with the one thing the three of us agree: The actions of the M.T.A. board cannot be allowed to stand. We have to get together and provide the revenue and ensure these 31-percent fare hikes do not stand.”
Gov. David Paterson announced the death of the tolls this morning. “The framework I see is that the Senate has really eliminated what my choice would be, which would be to have the tolls. If that’s the case, then we’re going to have to try to find alternative ways to come up with several hundred million dollars that would replace what would have been the revenues generated by the tolls,” Paterson said of the then-ongoing negotiations.
The Senate though was rumored to be considering numerous other options to replace the lost revenue, including auto registration fees, gas taxes, parking fees and even taxi surcharges. At this point, anything is better than the stunning inaction we have seen so far.
These provisions were supposed to be coupled with a payroll tax implemented among businesses in the 12 MTA counties. But disaster struck in the afternoon when four State Senators vowed no support for any MTA plan that included this tax. Those Senators — all Democrats — represent suburban counties: Craig Johnson and Brian Foley come from Nassau and Suffolk, respectively, and Andrea Stewart-Cousines and Suzi Oppenheimer represent the Metro-North lands in Westchester.
With this opposition, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and his Democrats find themselves far away from the 32 votes they need to pass a plan. They’re even further away from coming up with a proposal that can approach the $1.2 billion in money the MTA needs.
Meanwhile, all sorts of insults and scathing editorials are being shot toward Albany. Vielkind called it the city where transportation plans go to die, and Peter Goldmark, former Port Authority head and Ravitch Commission member, wondered what our State Senators are smoking as they delay on a very serious issue.
As time ticks closer to Doomsday, only one thing is for sure: The MTA will have to keep cutting and raising fares. The debt is projecting to balloon over the next few years, and my April Fools post from last year may become reality under ground before we know.