Hope for the Ravitch Commission recommendations looked dim last Friday as numerous politicians voiced their collective disapproval for the tax-and-toll plan to save the MTA. Today, after a week of hearings conducted by various governing bodies and featuring numerous transit and business officials, the future is looking decidedly worse for the MTA.
“Some of my colleagues said the Ravitch plan is dead on arrival,” State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan (Dem., Brooklyn) said this week. “They said to me there’s no way they can vote for it. It’s the M.T.A.’s responsibility to convince my colleagues.”
That effort, according to Ken Belson of The New York Times, is not going so well. Belson sums up the grim news:
An array of city, state and federal elected officials sharply criticized the proposals to bail out the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at a legislative hearing on Thursday, raising fresh concerns about whether the proposals can survive in Albany.
City Council members opposed a plan to introduce tolls on the East and Harlem Rivers. Representative Anthony D. Weiner and business groups said they were against introducing a new payroll tax. And state senators, as well as many advocacy groups, disagreed with the proposal for an 8 percent fare increase.
Mostly, according to Belson, New York politicians were hoping to find ways to save the system without raising fares, cutting service, implementing tolls or instituting new taxes. I guess praying might work one day.
State Senator Bill Perkins of Manhattan, who led the hearing, at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem, asked Mr. Ravitch several times if his commission had considered ways to avoid raising public transit fares.
Mr. Ravitch said that some fare increases were necessary. He said his plan was needed not just to help close the M.T.A.’s $1.2 billion budget gap, but to ensure that all constituents — including drivers and subway, railroad and bus riders — share the burden. “Nobody likes to pay anything,” Mr. Ravitch said in answer to questions by Senators Perkins and Dilan. “We concluded that the only ultimately feasible way to get the financing done is come up with recommendations that everyone contribute.”
Meanwhile, New York politicians are looking in all the wrong places. Anthony Weiner, a House representative from New York, criticized the tax-and-toll plan as consisting of “old ideas” and said that the feds would ride to the rescue of the MTA. “We should step back from the apocalypse. There’s going to be help coming from Washington,” he said.
But I have to ask Mr. Weiner when he expects this magic money from D.C. to arrive. The MTA can wait only another 36 days until they must pass a budget, and there is no way that Congress can find $1.2 billion for the transit agency in that time. Meanwhile, the city and state have to be looking at permanent, long-term fixes for the MTA. Unless the federal government is willing to guarantee operating revenues for the MTA in perpetuity, New York will have to confront this issue of taxes and tolls and fare hikes sooner rather than later.
Optimistically, Assembly representative Richard Brodsky thinks that a compromise is on the horizon. What that will be is anyone’s guess, but right now, I don’t share Brodsky’s sunny outlook.