As the MTA Board voted to pass a Doomsday package consisting of a 23 percent fare hike, the elimination of two subway lines and the scaling back of late-night and weekend service, the New York State Senate finally passed a comprehensive bailout package. The tax-and-toll plan will scale back the fare hike to a mere eight percent, avoid the service cuts, pare down the MTA debt and fund the agency’s ambitious capital expansion program.
Oh wait. Just kidding. Let’s try that again.
As the MTA Board voted to pass a Doomsday package consisting of a 23 percent fare hike, the elimination of two subway lines and the scaling back of late-night and weekend service, State Senators fell back on the same finger-pointing and party bickering that has come to dominate the Albany discourse. Our politicians again tried to blame a supposedly uncooperative MTA for Senate inaction and offered up the red herring of the commuter tax, another D.O.A. politically infeasible plan.
After fielding G.O.P.-targeted criticism in the city’s papers this week, Republican leader Dean Skelos blamed the Democrats for inaction. “The closed door discussions by the three New York City Democrats running state government have failed to produce an agreement on the MTA to prevent fare hikes, just as the closed door discussions on the state budget have failed to produce an agreement, with the deadline just a week away,” Skelos said in a statement.
Skelos has offered Republican support for an MTA bailout plan if it is tied to a road-and-bridges package for the upstate area.
Meanwhile, as Mayor Bloomberg urged the Senate to “do something,” one Senator took it upon himself to try. Martin Dilan, the head of the Senate Transportation Committee, proposed reinstating a commuter tax.
Support for the bill is dicey, and those who want the commuter tax reinstated believe the benefits should flow to the City and not the MTA. “The New York City commuter tax should be for New York City,” Senator Tom Duane said. “And if we hadn’t lost those millions from the commuter tax years ago, we wouldn’t be in such a dire situation with regard to the M.T.A.”
What the difference is, I don’t know. The City will benefit from a healthy and funded MTA. There’s also no guarantee that at any point the Senate would have diverted the flow of funds from the city to the MTA, as Duane suggests.
Furthermore, this proposed plan just won’t cut it. When the commuter tax was repealed during a good economy in 1999, it was estimated to bring in between $210-$360 million — or $267-$458 million in 2009 dollars. The MTA’s budget gap is $1.2 billion and climbing.
The tax has also suffered from historica bipartisan opposition. Upstate and Westchester-based Senators from both sides of the aisle felt the commuter tax unfairly burdened their constituents. With today’s G.O.P. mounting an ideological attack on the Ravitch Plan’s payroll tax, to assume a commuter tax — a plan far less equitable than bridge tolls — would pass defies reality.
In the end, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith issued another half-hearted plea for patience in an attempt to defend himself. “We are clearly still working towards a solution for them,” Smith said. “There’s still some time before they actually institute the raise.”
If this is the Senate “clearly” working toward a solution, I’d hate to see what they do when they actually want to get something done. Smith inspires no confidence, and while there is indeed some time before the cuts and hikes are implemented, I don’t have any faith in the State Senate. Do you?