Home MTA Economics Times: Albany must find a ‘lasting solution’

Times: Albany must find a ‘lasting solution’

by Benjamin Kabak

Calling New York a failed state in its current iteration isn’t too much of a stretch. We have a governor with no public support, and a State Senate that can’t stop its in-fighting long enough to pass any sort of legislation. When they do get their collective acts together for a long enough period of time to get something done, the results fall far short of what is promised as is the case with last May’s MTA funding package.

Over the weekend — unfortunately on a Saturday when fewer people are around to read it — The New York Times took Albany to task for its MTA failures. In a scathing editorial, the Gray Lady called upon Albany to find a better solution for the MTA. With a budget shortfall of nearly $800 million, the MTA is on borrowed time, and The Times succinctly outlines the sources of the shortfall. Tax revenues are down; the payroll tax brought in $200 million less than expected; fare revenue is down by $100 million; Albany cut $143 million; the upcoming TWU raises will cost the agency $100 million. It is a perfect storm of bad circumstances.

The Times though is concerned with the machinations in Albany right now. Writes the paper:

Now Governor Paterson is threatening to make things worse. In a clear pander to suburban voters in this year’s governor’s race, he is calling for cutting the payroll tax in seven suburban counties around the city while increasing the payroll tax in the city’s five boroughs.

A Legislature that is heavy on representatives from New York City is unlikely to go along — at least on raising the city’s taxes. The danger is that legislators, also facing voters this year, will decide to cut suburban payroll taxes without making up the loss to the transportation authority.

Some advocates are suggesting the agency shift some of its federal stimulus money — supposed to be reserved for maintenance, subway construction and upgrades — to use for operations. Transportation experts warn that if that happens, the system would deteriorate. Remember the ratty old subways of 30 years ago?

Albany must come up with a lasting solution for the M.T.A. That means leaving the payroll tax alone and finding new revenue sources — starting with tolls on Manhattan’s free bridges that could raise an estimated $600 million a year. It may mean raising fares, although that should be a last resort. It will mean supporting the new Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman, Jay Walder, including in his plans to lay off workers as he streamlines the system.

What it should not mean is doing away with free passes for needy students. Both the state and city will have to contribute more to help pay $214 million a year to help keep these students in school.

The transit system that feeds the New York City area is crucial to the welfare and commercial vitality of the entire state. Governor Paterson and the Legislature have a responsibility to make sure it has the money it needs to keep working.

In a nutshell, this editorial tracks closely with everything I’ve been writing over the last few months. Albany must find a better solution. It’s time to renew the push for East River Bridge Tolls. It’s time for a sensible solution for transit in a city more heavily dependent on its subways and buses than any other in the nation.

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SEAN February 15, 2010 - 1:11 pm

Raise the payroll tax throughout the MTA region to 54 cents instead of shuffleing it around. If the outer counties don’t want to pay, then stop all rail services to those areas & focus on Westchester, Connecticut & Long Island.

After service stops for a while & traffic congestion becomes to much to bear residents will demand that the trains return. However will the MTA be willing to provide service without a large contribution from the northern counties?

Older and Wiser February 15, 2010 - 1:15 pm

Raise fares across the board and continue providing essential service without interruption. At the same time, announce that newly-risen fares will be lowered instantly and proportionately each time a source of additional funding, e.g. Albany, actually materializes. The onus would then be on Albany to find funding, instead of being on Jay Walder to inexorably dismantle New York’s primary (and greenest) means of getting to work & school.

Scott E February 15, 2010 - 3:24 pm

Sean – The problem is that many employers simply aren’t paying the tax. They’re not all grouped into one particular county, so it’s hard to stop service to them (btw, Westchester and LI aren’t pleased with the tax either, and Connecticut is not part of the district). Unfortunately, this is a tax that isn’t enforced. When someone fails to pay federal income tax, the IRS comes a-knocking. But when a small business doesn’t pay its state-mandated MTA tax, nothing happens.

O&W – This political game of chicken is already happening with the student-transit issue, and it seems to be backfiring as far as the transit agency’s public image is concerned. What it needs, in essence, is a skilled lobbyist who can be at least as effective in getting money from Albany as a child asking for a raise in his allowance. Right now, the child seems more capable. But now that the “Fare Hike Four” has become the “Transit-thwarting Three” (bye-bye Mr. Monserrate!), maybe the weak attempts at transit advocacy might be a little more effective. We can hope.

Niccolo Machiavelli February 15, 2010 - 6:33 pm

The concept of a lasting solution (final solution) is an elusive windmill to charge at. The present circumstances are illustrative. Every budget issue in front of the MTA and Albany is all in the context of a system that everyone agreed was so successful and critical that it merited expansion. Ergo, East Side Access for LIRR, the 2nd Ave. Subway and the Number 7 extension. A successful system was not a static system. How to maintain service levels while paying for the expansion and the debt accrued became the issue.

The same can be expected going forward. If the system is good the riders will want more service, to more locations for more hours. No one, of course, will want to pay for it. Politicians lined up for the ribbon cutting, the fell all over themselves for the Transportation Bond Act. But who will help pay for it,,,,see the Little Red Hen.


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