As the end of the day arrived in Albany yesterday and Passover fell, the State Senate adjourned until April 20. With a budget in the books, state representatives have all gone home for the holidays. Yet, the MTA’s uncertain future rests heavily on the Senate.
In just over seven weeks, the MTA will raise the fares a whopping 23 percent. Single subway and bus rides will cost $2.50. The 30-day unlimited MetroCards will cost $103 instead of $81. A few weeks later, the MTA will begin cutting service and firing employees across the entire New York City Metropolitan Area. No one will be happy, and the Senators seem to know this.
To that end, the Senators are still trying to come up with a funding plan for the fiscally-strapped transit agency. According to the Times Herald-Record, the various Senate plans consist of some of the following options:
- Imposing new state and/or regional fees on car registrations and driver’s licenses
- Adding new surcharges to taxi fares and parking garage fees in New York City
- Levying new fees on car rentals
- Adopting a modified payroll tax
- Increasing the MTA-dedicated sales tax
- Dedicating a percentage of the state income tax
The smartest and most equitable option — tolling the East River bridges — seems dead and buried. Despite that omission, though, this list is far from breaking news. At various points over the last year, politicians and transit advocates have proposed some combination of these factors. In my opinion, these measures will result in a temporary fix and don’t help the MTA secure a stream of revenue that would allow them to expand while meeting the demands of an operating budget. This are political stop-gaps designed by politicians and not policy-based solutions set forward by experts.
For now, though, that’s rather here nor there. As the State Senate left yesterday, though, their words were again alarming. Martin Dilan, head of the Senate Transportation Committee, stopped to talk to Politicker NY on the way out the door. “We were really trying to get something done, but this ‘rush’ thing really doesn’t work,” he said. “Basically, what’s on the table is a $25 registration fee for the 12 counties; there’s also a possibility of an additional cent or two within the 12 county region.” The fee is for keys; the tax, gas.
A few Senators have followed the bolded line of reasoning, and I don’t see the reality behind it. The Governor convened the Ravitch Commission in June of 2008, nine months ago. At that point, the entire state was put on notice that the MTA was struggling financially. Richard Ravitch released a preliminary report in September and a final report in December.
Between December and the end of March, the MTA held numerous hearings on the commission’s report and their proposed fare hikes with and without the money from that report’s proposals. During that entire time — during the past nine months — the State Senate did nothing to address an obvious and known problem. Now, after the MTA Board approved the Doomsday budget and seven weeks before it’s set to be implementing, State Senators are still bemoaning a time table they deem to be rushed.
That is, in a word, ludicrous. The time for excuses is over; the time to act is now. If the Senators need more than nine months to come up with a plan, perhaps we need some new Senators.