When all permanent measures fail, take the temporary road. That’s the lesson the State Senate is prepared to unleash upon the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to sources in Albany.
Faced with a March 25 deadline, irrational hatred of East River bridge tolls, an Assembly on board with Richard Ravitch and the need to do something quickly, the State Senate is prepared to unveil a temporary fix that will solve the MTA’s budget problems for this year.
According to NY1, the plan is a stop-gap measure: Tolls are out, any support for the MTA’s capital plan is out and a 25 percent fare hike is out. In will be a payroll tax, a four percent fare hike and a few other measures. While Richard Ravitch, the architect behind an equitable tax-toll-fare hike plan that would have saved the MTA, warned Albany against temporary fixes, the State Senate has all but officially rejected tolls and is going its own way.
Nicholas Confessore and William Neuman, writing an elegy to the East River bridge tolls in The Times, called the latest plan a “a scaled-back, short-term alternative to bail out the authority.” Reports the duo:
The Senate proposal, which was presented privately to Democratic Senators on Monday afternoon, would include a 4 percent fare increase, half of what Mr. Ravitch had proposed. It would also impose a tax of 25 cents on every $100 of payroll on employers within the 12 counties served by the authority. That would be significantly less than the 34 cents that Mr. Ravitch had proposed.
“The immediate impact would be, all service cuts are restored, fare increases would be cut in half, and there would be no tolls,” said one of the two people briefed on the plan.
Democratic staff members reviewed some of the authority’s finances in recent days and concluded that a scaled-back plan would suffice in the short term. But the Senate proposal would require the transportation authority to submit to a deeper forensic auditing, a step lawmakers from both parties have demanded as a condition of laying out more taxpayer money for the authority, long dogged by waste and corruption.
Senate staff members have not finished calculating precisely how much revenue their plan would generate. But it would clearly be far less than Mr. Ravitch’s plan, requiring lawmakers to return to the issue again within months. But one of the two people who were briefed said that since the authority’s capital spending plan was already financed through the end of this year, Senate Democrats believed there was time to return later to find a more comprehensive solution.
If this is what Carl Kruger earlier on Monday called “comprehensive and so outside the box that everybody should want to partner with it,” it’s clearly time for some new New York state leadership.
This is really just a punt by the State Senate. They’re enacting the least offensive measures of the Ravitch Plan while pushing off the MTA’s impending Doomsday by a few more months. Richard Ravitch knows what he’s talking about, and Sheldon Silvery, the Assembly speaker prepared to support tolls, recognizes now what the Senate will have to again tackle in a few months. The MTA’s long-term fix lies with the East River tolls just as it rested on the Triborough Bridge revenue a few decades ago.
If this is actually the plan to emerge from the Senate, I guess transit supporters should be happy. After all, if the MTA doesn’t have to cut back service while raising fares just four percent, New York has been saved from a transit doomsday. The MTA, though, is left with no clear vision for a future at a time when it should be laying the financial groundwork for more of the Second Ave. subway and more capital projects.
In six months or so, the Senate will have to revisit this issue. Maybe by then Malcolm Smith can corral the missing toll votes. The battle might be over, the war in a truce, but this whole story — a Ravitch-inspired fix that will require sacrifices from everyone — isn’t over yet.