Getting his committee’s ambitious plan to save the MTA out in front of the public was easy for Richard Ravitch. A public desperate to avoid the MTA’s doomsday scenario hadn’t been this excited for a government report in ages. But now that we have all the details and a few supporters, the hard part — convincing both the properly suspicious and misguided skeptics — begins.
Reaction to the plan was both swift and all over the place with groups coming out, for, against and in mixed support of the plan. As expected, the MTA seemed accepting of it. “The MTA is pleased that the commission appointed by Governor Paterson and led by Richard Ravitch has identified a comprehensive plan for putting the MTA back on sound financial footing. We thank Governor Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg and all of the commission members for their support of increased funding for the critical operating and capital needs of the transit system that powers the state’s economy,” the agency said in a statement e-mailed out to reporters this afternoon.
But beyond the MTA’s unconditional support, battle lines were swiftly drawn. For the most part, public advocacy organizations such as the Straphangers Campaign and the New York League of Conservation Voters issued statements in favor of the Ravitch recommendations while elected officials issued the tired, knee-jerk reaction to tolling the East River bridges and higher taxes.
At some point, these officials will understand that driving isn’t free in any social aspect and that funding mass transit, a more important part of the tri-state area than unnecessarily cheap tolls, is more vital to the area’s health. Perhaps, they’ll also understand that tolling the currently-free East River bridges would result in no increases in the cost of the current East River tolls. This is a subtle but important point the plan’s proponents will have to propagate.
State legislators, mainly from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, said the plan by a state commission headed by Richard Ravitch, a former authority chairman, would unfairly burden drivers from their districts.
But many of those same legislators, along with some business leaders, were more supportive of another part of the plan: a proposed tax of one-third of 1 percent on payrolls in the 12-county region served by the authority, which includes New York City, Long Island and five counties north of the city…
“Any solution that disproportionately burdens middle- and working-class people who live in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn is not a fair way to deal with this, and that’s what tolling the bridges would do,” said Assemblyman Michael N. Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens.
Gianaris was one of many assembly representatives and City Council members to pursue this line of thinking. One day, he and others will understand that New York’s lower class residents are the ones who rely on the subway most of all. They don’t owe cars; they can’t afford gas. In fact, they stand to benefit the most from a healthy and vibrant mass transit system.
But beyond that, it seems as though the politicians who matter here are going to ask for more oversight of the MTA and try to lobby for lower or no East River tolls and higher payroll taxes. The pols really don’t like the East River tolls. The issue of the driver licensing and car registration fees will rear it’s ugly head too. (Look for more on that this afternoon.)
Meanwhile, Ted Kheel promises another plan focusing around mass transit, and Roger Tussaint warns about ensuring that any recommendations are a-OK with his Transit Workers Union Local 100. Some things never change.
For now, things are shaking down as expected. The tough work begins right away though. The MTA has to present a balanced budget before December is out, and the legislature needs to act quickly. Can New York finally look forward to a progressive solution to its transit woes? We’ll find out soon.