Twenty two days isn’t a very long time, but that’s all the state legislature has left if they want to save the MTA — and New Yorkers — from massive MTA fare hikes and service cuts. Meanwhile, storm clouds are gathering in Albany for an epic fight over the fiscal future of transit in the New York City Metropolitan Area.
On one side is Sheldon Silver and his version of the Ravitch Commission recommendations. He supports the payroll tax and East River crossing tolls, but instead of the $5 fee Richard Ravitch proposed, Silver wants to start things off with a $2 fare, even with the current subway rate. It won’t stave off the inevitable cuts and hikes, but it’s better than inaction.
On the other side is, well, everyone else. Some of Silver’s fellow Assembly representatives and some State Senators are decrying the toll plan on the same old populist line. These tolls will somehow hurt middle class New Yorkers. Those are, by the way, the same middle class New Yorkers who don’t own cars, don’t drive back and forth to work each day and do rely on the subways, buses and commuter rails to get around the region. When someone in the media will tell representatives such as Adriano Espaillat, Rory Lancman and Jose Peralta that, I do not know.
Also on the agin’ side is Comptroller William C. Thompson. The New York City official and potential mayoral candidate voiced his strident opposition to tolls and again called attention to his plan to drastically increase driver licensing fees. Again, this is a perfect example of a politician putting forward a plan that would have a disproportionate impact on those who can least afford it without creating a true distribution of responsibility for the MTA’s financial picture based on use of bridges, roads and rails.
Finally, we have State Senator Malcolm Smith. The Senate Majority Leader is wavering on the toll plan. He doesn’t understand how the MTA, behind Richard Ravitch’s suggestions, could go from needing a $5 toll to suddenly being satisfied with a $2 toll. As a result, he has called for and gotten the go ahead to conduct at MTA audit. It’s doubtful that the MTA audit will be completed in three weeks and a day, and the answer to his quandary is simple really. The MTA knows that its best hope politically is a $2 toll. Some of the money they need is again far more preferable to none.
In the middle of this imperfect storm is Richard Ravitch. He is the subject of a sympathetic profile by Sam Roberts in The Times today. Everyone loves him; everyone — from Silver on down — trusts him; and yet politicians are still hung up a six-year-old bookkeeping scandal that was perpetrated by a bunch of people no longer in charge. Old stereotypes and prejudices die hard, and while the battle lines are drawn, Ravitch will have to help guide the proper pieces into position. New York City is depending on it.