Home MTA EconomicsDoomsday Budget MTA facing Doomsday as Senate negotiations break down

MTA facing Doomsday as Senate negotiations break down

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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HappyDogNyc April 1, 2009 - 11:22 am

Why is it so hard for the MTA to turn a profit? I remember when the MTA was caught a few years ago keeping two sets of books, one to show the public and a secret version showing they had a surplus of cash. So why would I believe the MTA now? I have lived in New York since 2001 since then the only noticeable difference I have seen in the subways are the led signs on the L line, the elimination of the token, the fare hikes up to soon to be $2.50 and the elimination of tellers. So where does all of the MTA’s money go? I think the MTA board should be made to go the way of Rick Wagoner. In this new economic reality can we continue to fund this type of ruthless corruption? My answer is no if you feel the same way contact you representative. It only takes a few minutes to jot off an email to say Charles Rangel and that email will do more than a lifetime of talking to people that can’t do anything about it.


Benjamin Kabak April 1, 2009 - 4:36 pm

Can you actually point to this supposed ruthless corruption or are you just going to keep spouting your uninformed generalities? As I said to you in another thread in which you posted the exact same comment:

Please read some more of this site. The MTA was NOT caught with two sets of books. They were accused by a corrupt comptroller of having two sets of books, and they were later exonerated in court when those charges were found to be false. This isn’t a point of debate. It’s fact, and as long as people continue to choose not to educate themselves, the MTA will never earn the support it needs.

The MTA is broke. Feel free to read through the numerous budget documents they have made freely available here on their website before you start spouting off uninformed generalities on something about which you clearly know little. Enough is enough.

It’s great that you’re trying to get involved, but you should really know the facts and history of transit in MTA before you start accusing what has in recent years been a much better MTA Board of blatant corruption. It doesn’t help the cause, and I’m frankly sick of hearing it from people who think they know everything about it.

Beyond this Doomsday, more bad news :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog April 1, 2009 - 12:00 pm

[…] « MTA facing Doomsday as Senate negotiations break down Apr […]

Marc Shepherd April 1, 2009 - 12:15 pm

In our lifetimes, the MTA and its predecessors have never been profitable. This is not just an MTA problem. How many subway systems can you name, anywhere in the world, that are profitable? Even in the so-called “two sets of books” era, the MTA was not turning a profit. It was continuing to receive state and federal subsides (though not enough), and it was borrowing heavily. Those debts are now coming due.

There is much more to running a transit system than meets the eye. A lot of money is spent on things like track and signal replacement, tunnel lighting, and structures not visible to the rider. But if you’ve been here since 2001, there ought to be plenty you can see, such as new rolling stock and numerous station rehabs. These are the kinds of expenditures that need to be undertaken continuously, without which the system will gradually fall into the state of disrepair that it faced in the 1970s.

If you think an e-mail to Charles Rangel is all it takes to fix this, then I suggest you send it and see what happens.

More Senate idiocy as bailout talks die :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog April 2, 2009 - 12:53 am

[…] comments made on Wednesday by Craig Johnson and Brian Foley, two of the four suburban Senators opposing the payroll tax, via Newsday: Johnson shot back that the payroll surcharge would be crippling to not-for-profits […]


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