Questioning Paterson’s transit credentialsBy
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that he is nominating his predecessor in Albany to an open seat on the MTA Board, I was a dissenting voice amidst a chorus of cheers. With advocacy who need to keep themselves in the good graces of the governor praising David Paterson for his willingness to push through a payroll tax to “save” the MTA, I wondered about his constant raids on MTA funding and his inability or unwillingness to do more. After all, he had to find some money or else the MTA would collapse.
Now, as Cuomo, who hasn’t ridden the subway since before he was elected governor, has defended Paterson’s appointment (Daily News, video), the former governor has spoken out on few transit issues. His words do not comfort me and should perhaps give pause to those rushing to endorse his candidacy. In a wide-ranging interview with Capital New York, Paterson essentially shot down every transit funding proposal without offering up much in the wya of new ideas, and in fact, he seemed unfamiliar with some proposed expansion plans that have been out there for years.
Dana Rubinstein has the story:
When I asked soon-to-be M.T.A. board member David Paterson about Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s proposal to revive the commuter tax, the former governor said it was “a perfectly valid concept whose life ended in 1999, and the current thinking does not accommodate it.” Asked if it was just politically unfeasible, Paterson said, “Yeah.”
But another of Stringer’s proposals did find favor with Paterson: the creation of an X line that could be built along existing rights of way connecting subways in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. “His suggestion about the train that connects the outer boroughs, I think, was overlooked,” said Paterson, adding, “And I like how he calls it the ‘X train.’ ‘Ex’ sort of meaning ‘outer’? He should change it to the ‘Y train.’ It would sound more inclusive.”
The Triboro RX plan, as it is known in planning circles, was a part of Lee Sander’s address on the 40th anniversary of the MTA. That speech was delivered two weeks before Paterson took over as governor from the scandal-plagued Eliot Spitzer, but he seems to have little familiarity with it.
Rubinstein had more though on the former governor’s relationship to the payroll tax, a funding mechanism he helped usher in:
The payroll mobility tax proved exceedingly unpopular in the suburbs surrounding New York City, and Governor Cuomo has since rolled it back, which sits poorly with transportation advocates, but which Paterson says was the right thing to do. “The reason I accepted the payroll tax is because I had to close $21 billion of deficit,” said Paterson. “We talk about $10 billion deficits now like it’s the worst thing that ever happened. I’m the only governor in the state that ever had to close $21 billion in their first year. And so at that point, anything that was on the table that involved revenue generation to pay off these debts, I took.”
“But now the governor who has continued to cut spending and has cut two budgets in a row on time, he has rolled back a lot of that tax, and at this point in history, it is precisely the right thing to do,” continued Paterson.
Right now, the M.T.A.’s finances are in a precarious state. The state-run authority’s debt burden is enormous, and it is lacking in sufficient dedicated revenue streams. “That’s a problem that the governor will have to face,” said Paterson. “But I think what the governor is saying is that the distribution of the responsibility has to be more fair, and I totally agree.”
Basically, Paterson is advocating for rolling back the payroll tax while calling any commuter tax a political non-starter. He’s using political buzzwords — such as tax fairness — without paying heed to the issues. He may have, as many have noted, appointed Richard Ravitch to solve the MTA’s problems, but he never embraced the proposals issued by Ravitch. His familiarity with some transit expansion plans that should become reality seems tenuous at best.
Ultimately, Paterson will not make or break the MTA Board. There have plenty of knowledgeable and active board members over the years and plenty who do not attend meetings and have little understanding of the issues facing transit in New York. At a time when transit needs its vocal supporters, Paterson’s early efforts aren’t comforting, but perhaps, he’ll prove me wrong.