Home MTA EconomicsDoomsday Budget Senate Dems reach deal on tentative MTA plan

Senate Dems reach deal on tentative MTA plan

by Benjamin Kabak

The final two pieces of the Democratic puzzle have fallen into place. After closed-door meetings in Albany on Monday, the final two Democratic holdouts in the State Senate — Craig M. Johnson and Brian X. Foley, both of Long Island — have agreed to support the latest iteration of the MTA funding plan.

This plan, according to reports, will generate approximately $1.7 billion in revenue for the beleaguered MTA. It culls this money from a small payroll tax in the counties in and around New York City that receive MTA service, a 50-cent taxi drop-off surcharge and higher fees for car registration and driver’s licenses.

William Neuman and Nicholas Confessore of The Times had more on the back-room politicking that has resulted in something of an MTA funding plan:

The senators said they were swayed by a commitment from Gov. David A. Paterson to reimburse school districts for the cost of a payroll tax that is the centerpiece of the rescue plan.

Mr. Johnson said that after discussing the issue with the majority leader, he was comfortable that “the residents of school districts are going to be protected appropriately when it comes to school taxes.”

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Foley said, however, that their support was contingent on the final wording of the rescue legislation, which is still being negotiated.

“There’s a framework that we believe we have agreed upon,” Mr. Smith said. “However, as I will always tell people, the devil’s in the details.”

Without this funding plan in place, the MTA is prepared to enact a Doomsday budget scenario. Service across the city will be scaled back or eliminated, and the fares will skyrocket by nearly 25 percent. Our precious 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCards would cost $103.

As The Daily News’ Glenn Blain and Pete Donohue note though, the Senate plan will roll back those hikes and cuts. According to the two reporters, the MTA will increase the base fare to $2.25 instead of $2.50, and monthly MetroCards will cost $88. Meanwhile, the MTA will be able to mainatin the bus and subway routes scheduled for elimination, and service can remain at current levels.

For now, this is something of a victory for transit advocates. The state is, pending passage of this bill, finally providing for a dedicate source of revenue for the MTA. This is not just a one-year stop-gap measure. This payroll tax and taxi surcharge will remain in place in perpetuity.

However, all is not well with the MTA and this plan. As it stands right now, this plan will generate around $1.76 billion for the transit system. With a projected deficit this year of $1.8 billion and a projected deficit of over $2 billion for 2010, this new money will be just enough for the MTA to get by. I’ll examine the capital funding issues later today, but prospects are hazy, at best, for the MTA’s state of good repair program and its expansion plans.

Politically, for now, this move will reassure the voting public in New York that the State Senate is keeping an eye on transit. I don’t really trust that eye, and I don’t really see our legislature dedicated to a long-term solution. Today, though, Doomsday is one step closer to being one step further away.

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john May 5, 2009 - 2:41 am

sheesh thank God. But taxi fee? I really think a 25 cents extra sticker price for rides makes a lot more sense.

As someone who does not have a monthly pass, I can assert that people that don’t buy monthly passes don’t depend on the system and are basically freeriders clogging up the lower Manhattan portions of the L and 6 trains. Sticker price should be $3.

Phil May 5, 2009 - 6:00 am

Looking forward to your exposition on the capital plan – really wondering how they find the money for it – estimates are $3B a year JUST for maintenance, no expansion

Ray May 5, 2009 - 7:27 am

Yuck. While there is a sense of relief that services will not be suspended (I do like the W), I am disappointed that this ‘crisis’ moment will not yield real change to the unsustainable operating structure(s) of the MTA.

The overtures to cost save recently touted in a ‘memo’ MUST materialize into tangible, visible efforts to change at this (still) state agency. Perhaps the Senate and Assembly conference can attach an amendment to demand that?

I don’t know what the shape of it should be, but it seems like the Federal Government is on the right track with Chrysler and GM, etc. These are the moments. Leverage! From monstrous SUVs to highly efficient plug-in electrics in only a few quarters! Shuttering plants laying off workers but likely hiring thousands back in a future – that is more sustainable.

For some reason, I still trust that the current MTA management team has the aptitude to get it right and (as a liberal) I want to give the union leadership the benefit of all my doubts. Yet I think we need to force their hand – and ‘give them permission.’ While applying the uncomfortably strong personal pressure, we need to bring them along by rewarding signs of behavior! Grant broad reorganization authority along with benchmark financial targets. Force it or force them out. Yet, give them bonuses (and workers aid) if they can save us $200 million each year. Otherwise buh bye. Next.

My head is filled with ideas to paradigm shift… Do we really need a LIRR and a MetroNorth RR company and all the insane legacy duplication and contortions? Can’t they just be ‘brands’ of the same RR operator? Is bankruptcy the only way to dissolve this ancient petrified structure? (Heck Delta absorbed NWA and her unions like it was nothing and that was much more complicated – an international maneuver in a time when the economy was (is) on the floor!)

NJ is in financial crisis too, are there not MTA efficiencies with NJ Transit? Oh that’s right we don’t talk to them. Insane.

And underground, we are wasting money every second we don’t start using the technologies employed all over Europe. What are those – we barely know!? And are there not capital and operating efficiencies with the Port Authority and NYC Transit? Did PATH really need to develop its own new rail fleet when NYC cars would have done just fine? I know I know! Little kingdoms don’t fall easily.

Think about how we have been failed by our MTA and get (just a little) angry. We are NEW YORK! We should be one-upping Paris’ METEOR line or London’s JUBILEE! Our stations should be safe, clean and full of amenities. We should be installing platform doors and air conditioning, our tourists should be playing with touch screen guidance devices, our commuters should be using their RFID enabled debit cards at turnstiles, we ALL should be watching electronic signs with accurate next train arrival info!

Yes change is tough; jobs are going to be lost but great ones will be made – We MUST find a way to bring our 19th century transit system into the 21st century.

So yes, relief sure but it seems very temporary, but its clearly a lost opportunity to put pressure on the well compensated group to come together and bring us there. Its their job to do this, not just barely ‘hold it together.’

Boris May 5, 2009 - 10:35 am


Crises force one to act, but they don’t change people’s mentality. That takes time anyway. Tourists don’t come to New York for the subway, they come for the skyscrapers and Broadway shows as reminders of cut-throat capitalism. America isn’t known for public transportation. Even among New Yorkers there are many people who don’t think the subway can, or should, be better than it is. It’s all they know.

Also, this is not a crisis for the politicians or the unions, at least not the way it is with GM. They’ll get by fine, no matter how well or poorly the rest of us are doing. And MTA management has no real power or incentive to make radical changes.

petey May 5, 2009 - 12:11 pm

“Even among New Yorkers there are many people who don’t think the subway can, or should, be better than it is. It’s all they know.”

too true

Al W May 5, 2009 - 10:18 pm

Boris, I think you’ve hit the head of the nail. Americans don’t think much of mass transit, and this mentality is evident even in New York City. While people of all classes ride the subway in New York City, many people in New York City also drive. Many of these drivers don’t feel or understand the urgency of reforming mass transportation finance, which is why the political establishment has been less than attentive to the problem.For that matter, even many people dependent on mass transit seem to think in the same was as drivers…

Ariel May 5, 2009 - 12:48 pm

I co-sign on that Ray. You wrote true words of wisdom.

It would be complacent for transit advocates to support this plan. It postpones funding for the capital budget and, by not charging tolls but still raising fares, will lead to even more traffic congestion on our roads.

Like Ray said, all this plan will do is eliminate the leverage we have to bring about real, fundamentally needed change.

To Boris: Sure the status quo in the U.S. doesn’t care about mass transit. But should that mean that transit advocates accept the crap we have? New York City has always stood out as one of very few transit friendly regions of the U.S. and the rest of the country really needs our leadership in showing how good mass transit could be if done right. This crisis is as good a chance we will ever get for arm-twisting and we should not let it go to waste.

I for one am not happy with this plan and I think in the long-term it will screw the MTA over once again.

Boris May 7, 2009 - 11:30 am

No, we shouldn’t accept what we have. But I think the question is, how do we make all New Yorkers (or Americans) transit advocates? To me, the need for better transit is self-evident, because I travel a lot and see how it is in other places. But most of my friends either believe driving is the best way to get around or public transit will never improve to fulfill their needs.

I have a friend who sometimes has to work on weekends. She believes that good weekend bus service is impossible, which is why her right to drive for free between Queens and Manhattan should be preserved. She just can’t believe that the toll would improve bus service (which she can choose) or her driving experience (if she continues to drive). When your subway station was last painted before you were born, it’s hard to believe change is possible. But now she is moving to San Francisco, where she will see first hand how much better a transit system can be in America.

Scott E May 5, 2009 - 9:00 am

I agree, in principle to some of the above comments. The turnstiles have already been reprogrammed to deduct $2.50 as a base fare…. why not just leave them? Increase the bonus on the pay-per-ride Metrocard to effectively bring it down to $1.91 ($2.25 fare with the current 15% bonus). Single-ride Metrocards will still cost $2.50.

I’m really eager to see the logistics how the taxi surcharge will work out. I have a feeling that, administratively, it will cost more than it collects – or that cabbies will report far fewer rides than they actually make.

rhywun May 5, 2009 - 9:06 am

Are they still giving half the taxi “surcharge” to Upstate?

Matt May 5, 2009 - 1:36 pm

Better than nothing, I guess. I’m not thrilled about the highest driver’s license fees. People like me, who don’t own a car, generally still need a driver’s license as their primary state-issued ID. For better or worse, that is the status quo almost everywhere in the country. I think all the revenue should be raised via car registration fees (perhaps with a heavy weight surcharge to nail SUVs and hummers).

Rhywun May 5, 2009 - 4:50 pm

You can choose not to drive and get a cheap “Identification Card”… (I hope the price of that isn’t going up! Luckily I just renewed mine and it lasts for 8 years…)

Matt May 5, 2009 - 5:20 pm

I know, but then I can’t actually drive on an occasion when I might need it (i.e., visiting my parents, who do not live in NYC)

Rhywun May 5, 2009 - 4:54 pm

But you have a point, Matt; why should people who hardly drive be punished at the DMV the same as people who drive all day.

Ariel May 5, 2009 - 5:41 pm

The same applies to the charges on the rental cars and taxis. There are rare occasions where I need a car so why should I, someone without a car, get penalized? Rental cars and taxis need to stay cheap to make owning a car less of a necessity.

Benjamin Kabak May 5, 2009 - 5:42 pm

At least registration fees are going up, but the point remains: People who use their cars should pay for it. People who own a drivers license as a form of ID and hardly drive shouldn’t have to fund everyone else.

rhywun May 5, 2009 - 10:51 pm

Well, now it’s an encouragement not to get a driver’s license… perhaps the first ever.

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