Things are not looking good for the MTA. With just 40 days left until the MTA Board is set to vote on a draconian package of service cuts and a fare hike, the prospects for a Richard Ravitch-inspired bailout are growing dimmer and dimmer.
The problems crept up on Monday when I noted how Westchester and Long Island pols were not embracing a 0.33 percent payroll tax. Today, the news gets worse. As William Neuman writes in The Times, no one is too thrilled with any of the possibilities. He writes:
When Richard Ravitch revealed his financial rescue plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in December, the harshest criticism focused on a proposal to place tolls on the East River and Harlem River Bridges.
That made the plan’s centerpiece, a proposed new tax on payrolls in the 12 counties served by the authority, seem painless by comparison.
But since then, resistance to the payroll tax, which would raise $1.5 billion a year, has been building, especially in areas farther from New York City with less access to mass transit.
And opposition is coming not just from businesses that would pay the tax but also from public officials worried about schools and health care. That is because the tax envisioned by Mr. Ravitch, 33 cents on every $100 in salaries and wages, would apply equally to private businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies, including school districts.
The quotes from public officials are what you would expect. “Opposed, opposed, opposed, opposed, absolutely,” Orange County rep Aileen Gunther said to Neuman. “It” — meaning the tax — “is going to be devastating.”
“The thing that irks us is we’re really paying for somebody else’s problem,” Ken Eastwood, an Orange County school superintendent, said. “It’d be nice if we could turn around and say to the M.T.A., ‘We’d like to tax each of your riders X amount of dollars for our school district.’ They’d freak out.”
The flip side to this, of course, is that the economy will suffer a far more drastic downturn without this tax than with it. Transit will become a problem rather than a integral part of a commute. The region — known for relatively speedy access from suburbs to the economic hub of New York City — will suffer. Property values will go down; wages will go down; productivity will go down. Those schools will lose a lot more as people’s tax burden drops than they will under the Ravitch plan.
It all sounds very doom-and-gloom, but that’s reality. Still, no one in the government is putting it that way. Gov. David Paterson keeps talking about an upcoming push to support the plan, and I hope that enough New York City representatives can garner the support needed to pass it. We can’t afford not to bail out the MTA, and no one knows that more than Richard Ravitch himself.
“Nobody likes taxes, nobody likes tolls, nobody likes fare increases, nobody likes service cuts,” he said to Neuman, “and everybody should be terrified by the idea of the system not continuing to be in a state of good repair and starting back on a slippery slope.”