While the New York State Senate does not formally meet this week, the political wheels are spinning fast and furious as time is running out for the MTA. While Senate Democrats continue to consider any and all possibilities for an MTA funding plan, transportation advocates are turning toward the GOP for support.
Republicans have been loathe to support any plan. The state party feels it has been largely left out of both the budget sessions and MTA discussions. Now, though, it sounds as though enough members of the Republican contingent could be convinced to support an MTA plan — but with strings attached. Any acceptable plan probably won’t include a payroll tax, and Republicans from north of the city want equal investment in upstate roads as a condition of any MTA package.
“To just ignore the highway, road and bridge plan and go to trying to negotiate a schedule for a new M.T.A. capital plan was just not the right thing to do,” Senator Thomas W. Libous, the top Republican on the Senate Transportation Committee, said to Times reporter William Neuman today. Neuman has more on the next potential move for the MTA:
In the past, the Legislature has generally allotted equal amounts to roads and transit. That has ensured support from both parties and all areas of the state: The city is seen as benefiting most from the transit money, while upstate areas rely heavily on roadway spending. But that pattern was broken last year when Mr. Paterson chose to seek a financial rescue for the authority first…
Mr. Paterson and Mr. Silver both support the plan, but in the Senate, where Democrats have a narrow 32-to-30 majority, a group of city Democrats has blocked the toll proposal while a group of suburban Democrats has opposed the payroll tax.
That has led to appeals for support from Republicans, who have largely sat on the sidelines as Democrats bickered. Republicans have pointed to the lack of a corresponding highway and bridge program and have also said that they have been left out of negotiations about a rescue plan.
Even the most ardent of transit supporters recognize the reality that New York State may need both a transit and road plan. Politically, tying the two together could bring in enough votes to pass both. Economically, infrastructure investment in roads and transit could spur on a stagnant New York economy.
“If you brought in the bridge and highway program, that would help it become a bipartisan issue, as it’s been in the past,” Robert D. Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, said to Neuman. “This is a pretty fundamental economic issue for the whole state.”
Meanwhile, Neuman covers some key ground. The road bill would probably be looked to draw as much money to upstate infrastructure as the MTA would be receiving downstate. Considering the tenor of the debate currently raging among the Democrats, how can we expect Albany to act before the fares are raised next month and before service cuts begin to go into effect in June?
Politically, Gov. Paterson and Sheldon Silver aren’t the only two New Yorkers going after the GOP. The Transit Workers Union started airing ads aimed at New York City-based Republicans who won’t support transit. All in all, this is a smart move. Right now, the city needs the MTA to stay up and running. If it means investing in upstate roads at the same time, so be it. We’ll all benefit in the end.