Home MTA EconomicsRavitch Commission Ravitch proposals losing support

Ravitch proposals losing support

by Benjamin Kabak

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.”

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James D February 13, 2009 - 6:12 am

Well, if, say, Orange County fails to agree to pay its fair share, then the cuts should be modified to cut all Port Jervis Line trains but one back to Sloatsburg.

kynes February 13, 2009 - 8:02 am

Its funny that anyone thought a politician would pass new taxes right now during a recession. Its political suicide no matter how good the cause is.

Dave Rose February 13, 2009 - 9:16 am

The solution for these jurisdictions is easy – if they don’t want a payroll tax, then make commuters from these areas pay 100% of the cost of their travel. No fairbox subsidy from the state or other MTA taxes. Then these people can truly see how much of a good price for their commute that they have gotten over the years. I would imagine the subsidy for Port Jervis commuters has to be close to 80% of the total cost of travel.

rhywun February 13, 2009 - 10:51 am

I say let the plan fail, bring on the cuts, and then we know who to hold responsible for the damage it will do to the regional economy.

George February 13, 2009 - 1:33 pm

Politicians would just blame the MTA more, and the public would believe them. It is unfortunate, but nothing would be learned from this, and the same hackneyed politicians would get reelected because they “oppose fare increase”. Then as more fare increases and service cuts looms, the same will happen all over again.

The fact is, no matter what, to the ignorant masses, the MTA will always be the scapegoat, and the politicians will always come out scott free…

Mr. Eric February 13, 2009 - 2:12 pm

This is the reason that the MTA exists, so that the state and city along with all of there elected officials can not be blamed for transits problems.

Andy February 13, 2009 - 2:57 pm

Well, to be clear, the MTA hasnt done much to help its case, what with not knowing its books, cost overruns etc. Plus, Bloomberg has not been terribly accommodating to outside NYC areas in the past 6 years, so one can hardly be surprised favors are not returned

Marc Shepherd February 14, 2009 - 9:41 am

Well, remember that the MTA is owned by the public. If we “punish” the MTA for past mistakes, we are just “punishing” ourselves.

Niccolo Machiavelli February 18, 2009 - 12:18 am


The MTA “two sets of books” “scandal” was eight years ago. Is there some sort of statute of limitations on this sort of stuff or what. The MTA has dutifully reported the evolution of this budget crisis ever since and people who really want to know about it have watched it steadily build accordingly. The media have enjoyed the large font headlines screaming about new revelations but the reality is the 1.2 Billion really doesn’t have anything to do with mass transit. Rather, it was Governor Pataki and a parade of Mayors including Dinkins, Giuliani and Bloomberg, failing to provide tax money for the balance of the capital budget that led to the present crisis. You don’t have to wake up and smell the coffee if you don’t want to but the coffee is already brewed whether you continue to snooze or not.

When it comes to the MTA, everyone’s a critic :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog February 20, 2009 - 12:00 pm

[…] for the Ravitch Commission recommendations looked dim last Friday as numerous politicians voiced their collective disapproval for the tax-and-toll plan to save the MTA. Today, after a week of hearings conducted by various […]


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