Gov. David Paterson knows he doesn’t have a ground-breaking plan to fund the MTA on tap. In fact, he is willing to admit that his plan is simply a stop-gap measure designed to halt a fare hike and avoid crushing service cuts, and he said as much this weekend.
“What I’m saying is, this is not a plan that I think is going to get a blue ribbon,” Paterson said to The Times on Saturday. “But what it does is it solves the huge immediate problem of the anxiety and fear that commuters have over the shocking increase in fares and the prospect of widespread service cuts.”
But while his plan doesn’t accomplish the long-term funding goals of the Ravitch Plan, Paterson wants a quick resolution to this MTA fiasco in Albany. After all, in four weeks, the MTA is set to raise fares throughout the system, and the transportation authority plans to begin rolling out the service cuts a few days later. Reportedly, Paterson has convinced Sheldon Silver and Malcolm Smith to help him, and if Smith and Silver can deliver the Senate and Assembly respectively, some sort of funding plan will fall into place.
Right now, though, the issue focuses around the four Democratic State Senators who have refused to support any plan with a payroll tax. Prior to this week, two Westchester Democrats and two Long Island Democrats refused to join their party in supporting a funding plan, but after Paterson introduced his school rebate plan, the Westchester Dems — Suzi Oppenheimer and Andrew Stewart-Cousins — moved back into the yea column. Senators Craig M. Johnson and Brian X. Foley remain opposed and are considering holding up the bill.
Paterson however feels that he can convince the two hold-outs. “My understanding is that prior to this they have been adamantly opposed,” the governor said. “Here they are still opposed, but at least it has promoted dialogue which is the way we usually try to resolve problems in the world.”
Paterson may face another potential obstacle in his school plan from the Assembly. Sheldon Silver, Assembly speaker, has raised concerns over the plan because he doesn’t want to see non-profit organizations and government agencies searching for tax refunds as a rule. Sheldon could still have the Assembly push his modified Ravitch Plan, forcing a conference meeting over the Senate’s and Assembly’s dueling bills.
Meanwhile, for all of this talk of a quick resolution, a few issues remain. First, the MTA is now facing an additional $600 million deficit, and it’s unclear if Paterson’s plan addresses this new hole. It’s also unclear if Paterson’s plan will fund future deficits, and we know unequivocally that his plan does not fund the capital budget. Despite its current operations problems, for the MTA to remain competitive and to offer New Yorkers a top transit systen, that capital plan needs to be funded.
In the end, Paterson is relying on his quick fix to restore both some semblance of economic order to the MTA and some of his long-gone political capital. If he can stave off the fare hikes and service cuts, he says, he’ll push the legislature to find money for the five-year capital plan later this year. Not only then is the politicking far from over, but the battle over the future of the MTA has really just begun.